The flu is officially here.
The state saw a huge uptick in cases the week of Dec. 14, and last week, the number of lab-confirmed cases doubled. The number of patients admitted to hospitals with lab-confirmed influenza also doubled, according to state Department of Health records.
The state doesn’t have exact figures for the number of people who caught the flu but judges severity on the tiny percentage of patients whose samples are tested at a state lab or who wind up hospitalized. There were 1,222 laboratory-confirmed cases last week — more than double that of the week before — and 287 patients admitted to a hospital, more than double that of the week before. Given those two increases, state officials determined flu season is reaching its peak.
“Flu activity in New York state is now considered to be widespread, with laboratory confirmed cases in 52 counties and all boroughs of New York City,” said state Department of Health spokesman James O’Hare.
But there is some good news: No children have died from the flu in New York state so far this season. About 14 children died from the flu last year.
Flu season technically begins in October and ends in May, although a few cases are reported every month of the year, according to the Department of Health. Still, it takes the flu some time to spread, and until December, the Capital Region was largely spared.
Now, the flu has been reported in every Capital Region county — even Schoharie County, which was the last to report lab-tested influenza. Last week, that county finally had an official case, according to the state Department of Health.
Of course, there were many more cases in Schoharie County than the one that was reported. State health officials said very few flu patients go to the doctor when they get sick — and of those who go, few give a sample that’s sent to an official laboratory. Others are diagnosed on symptoms or through analysis at the doctor’s office.
But in Schenectady County, 12 cases were confirmed by a state lab last week. Similarly, labs confirmed 17 cases in Albany County, 23 cases in Saratoga County, one each in Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties and three in Rensselaer County.
State officials called the lab-confirmed cases the “tip of the iceberg,” saying they were a “tiny fraction” of the total flu cases in each county.
The flu hit here a little later than last year, when it reached its peak right after Christmas, health officials said. This time, it’s starting to peak about a week later.
The Capital Region’s elderly have already been hit hard. Last week, there were two lab-confirmed outbreaks of the flu, one at an acute care facility and one at a long-term care facility, according to the state Department of Health.
Symptoms include a sudden fever, chills, headache and muscle aches, as well as a cough or sore throat, O’Hare said. Although the symptoms are similar to a cold, they hit harder and more quickly, he said.
Most people recover from the flu without complications. But it can be deadly to children younger than 2, people older than 50, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems, according to the Health Department.
It’s not too late to get the vaccine; there are ample supplies available, O’Hare said.