Provided by the Suffolk County Health Dept.
SUFFOLK COUNTY—We are in the peak of the flu season — November through March — with numbers of confirmed cases outdoing those of seasons past. The virus attacks the lungs, nose and throat. Those at highest risk include the young, the old and pregnant, typically those with weak immune systems.
Once contracted, symptoms include fever, chills, muscle pain, cough, congestion, runny nose, headaches and fatigue. Some may even experience vomiting or diarrhea. Doctor’s orders usually include antiviral medication, rest and fluids, but over-the-counter pain relievers can help settle symptoms as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu this season is widespread throughout most of the United States. The vaccine’s effectiveness varies by type or subtype and is usually less effective against influenza A. Circulating virus strains include H1N1, H3N2 and both B strains, but H3N2 in particular has been a bit of a problem, challenging this year’s vaccine.
The CDC recommends those who are very sick or are at high risk of serious flu complications and get flu-like symptoms be treated with antiviral drugs as soon as possible. Though supplies are limited, the CDC is working with manufacturers to fill gaps in the market. Also, they suggest everyone get vaccinated if they haven’t done so already. There are still weeks of flu activity to come.
The CDC has already reported over 102,000 lab-test confirmed cases and a total 53 pediatric deaths since the start of the season, Oct. 1, 2017. The New York State Department of Health has reported over 11,000 confirmed influenza reports for the week ending on Jan. 27 and over 2,000 hospitalized patients, but no reported pediatric deaths. Suffolk County has reported a total of 625 lab-reported cases as of Jan. 27, which shows up considerably higher than in previous flu seasons for the month of January.
Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Islip reported that in 2017, 83 patients tested positive for the flu between Jan. 28 and Feb. 5. That same time period this year brought in 191 confirmed flu cases, which is a 56-percent increase.
Kathy DiBenedetto, MSN, RN, CIC, director of infection prevention at Good Sam, said the best prevention is still vaccination.
“We really encourage everyone to get vaccinated,” she said. “It isn’t just something you do to help yourself; you’re also looking out for everyone you come in contact with on a daily basis. Any protection is better than no protection.”
Earlier this month, Suffolk County Department of Health commissioner James Tomarken urged county clinicians and residents to take important steps to reduce the spread of the virus and lessen its effects.
He suggested first being vaccinated, which is the best way to prevent the flu, and second for those who have already contracted the virus to take antiviral drugs that can make the illness milder, shorter and reduce serious complications. It works best, he said, when the treatment is started as early as possible after symptoms begin.
“Ideally, treatment should be initiated within 48 hours of symptom onset. However, antiviral treatment initiated later than 48 hours after illness onset can still be beneficial for some patients, especially if the sick person has a high-risk health condition or is very sick from the flu,” he explained.
He also urged residents to stop the spread of germs by avoiding sick people and staying home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone. Also, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer often.
Emergency warning signs of the flu include:
In children, trouble breathing, bluish skin, not drinking enough, not waking up, irritable to the point they don’t want to be held, or fever with rash. In adults, difficulty breathing, pain in chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe vomiting, and symptoms that improve then return worse with fever. Get medical help right away for an infant who is unable to eat, has trouble breathing, has no tears when crying or significantly fewer wet diapers than normal.
Editor’s note: Liz Finnegan contributed to this story.
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