Flu season is here and it won’t be going away anytime soon. Fortunately, it’s not too late to get your flu shot.
“We’re in the throngs of it, and we knew it was coming, so we’re not at all surprised,” Saratoga County Public Health Director Cathi Duncan said. “It’s become widespread across the state, and in Saratoga we do see a very small increase. The good news is that it’s not too late to get your shot.”
State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker announced last week that influenza is “prevalent throughout the state” and “widespread,” an official status that automatically puts into effect a regulation requiring all health care workers who are not vaccinated to wear surgical masks in areas where patients are present.
“Vaccination is the best way to protect against influenza, and is especially important for health care workers,” Zucker said in a statement. “Health care personnel are routinely exposed to sick patients and come in close contact with patients who are vulnerable to influenza, such as the elderly. I encourage all New Yorkers older than 6 months to get their influenza shot as soon as possible.”
Results released by the state Department of Health showed that there were 571 cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza reported the week ending Dec. 9, an increase of 45 percent over the prior week. It is also significantly more than the 351 cases reported during the same week in 2016.
Joe McQueen, spokesman for Schenectady County, said that while the numbers are up a bit, that doesn’t mean there are going to be more flu cases this season.
“What I’m told by people in our Health Department is that it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an increase in the flu,” McQueen said. “What we could be seeing is an earlier onset of people getting the flu. So, the flu seems to have hit a little sooner. Every year it’s going to be different, so it’s hard to say on Dec. 15 of this year compared to Dec. 15 of last year we’re going to have an increase. We’re not hearing from the state or the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] that there is this major increase or problem. We just won’t know better until the end of the season.”
According to state health department figures, Schenectady and Saratoga counties both have between five to 10 cases of influenza per 100,000 population. That’s more than Schoharie and Montgomery counties, but less than Onondaga and Genesee counties, which have reported more than 10 cases per 100,000 population.
Priscilla Wheeler, communicative disease coordinator in Saratoga County, also said it’s too early to make any definitive statements regarding this year’s flu season.
“The [CDC] comes up with the vaccine after monitoring what happens in other parts of the world, like Australia, which has already had its flu season,” she said. “So the vaccine is made in advance of the flu season. They make an educated guess at what flu virus will be circulating, and it looks like it wasn’t that great a match down there.”
Wheeler added, however, that even if the vaccine isn’t a perfect match, it’s still very helpful in fighting the flu.
“The thing to remember is that the vaccine is our best protection against getting the flu,” she said. “It’s always advisable to get the shot, regardless if it’s a great match or not. And, when you get a flu shot, you’re not only getting immunized yourself, you’re also protecting those who can’t get immunized.”
According to CDC guidelines, children younger than 6 months should not get a flu vaccine shot. Also, people with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredients in the vaccine — such as gelatin or antibiotics — should not get the shot.
At Aumiller’s Pharmacy on State Street in Schenectady, co-owner Gina Sidoti said her store starts offering flu shots in August.
“I think we’ve seen an increase in traffic of people coming in with flu-like symptoms and getting medicine,” she said. “And we’re also up about 20 percent in the number of people we’ve had getting the flu vaccine. Usually at this time of year it starts to die down, but I think it’s picking up a bit, and that could be because we’ve done a lot of advertising about the flu, and people are hearing about it because of the media.”
The number of patients hospitalized around the state with laboratory-confirmed influenza was 190 the week ending Dec. 9, a 44 percent increase from the previous week. There have been no reported deaths because of the flu in New York. Across the nation, only eight influenza-associated deaths have been reported for the 2017-18 season.