Long Islanders, adults and children alike, should get vaccinated now as the flu turned into an epidemic, a Long Island expert on infectious diseases said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that 18 children nationally have died of flu so far this year, with cases reported in nearly every state. And the North Shore-LIJ Hospital system, said Thursday that hospital visits were up 20-30 percent because of the disease.
Dr. Sunil K. Sood said the flu season is considerably worse this year than it has been in several years. “First, it started very early this year, and second, the number of cases has dramatically increased nationwide,” he said. “Third, of the three strains, one, H-3, is associated with a higher death rate.”
This year’s flu vaccine protects against three strains, H-1 and H-3, and a third, Type B. “H-3 gives you a much worse disease,” he said.
Sood, who is director of pediatrics at Southside Hospital and an attending doctor in infectious diseases at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, emphasized the need for children to be protected. And for others to be protected from small disease carriers. “I’ve been giving really passionate speeches to parents that it is really dangerous not to have vaccinated themselves and their children,” he said. “If you haven’t immunized your child, even healthy kids can die. Children are the spreaders and they pass it on to older people as well.”
Those over 65 or with compromised immune systems are among the most vulnerable.
“It’s been recommended that every child over six months and adults get vaccinated but only 45 percent of children got vaccinated last year," said Sood. "That’s really, really sad."
And, he said, too many health workers don’t get vaccinated either, potentially jeopardizing patients. Where to get a vaccination around Port Washington.
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Sood, who is also professor of Pediatrics and Family Medicine at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine, had answers to those arguing against the vaccination. “No vaccine is perfect, but this year is a very good vaccine,” he said. “It is impossible to get flu from the shot because it uses a killed virus. And yes, you can get influenza but it won’t be as bad or you could get another virus.”
As far as the timing, Sood said it is not too late. “People say the cat is out of the bag; the answer is: 'No, go get it today.' You still have some time. It takes about a week to start developing immunity, so it’s not too late. There is no shortage this year; every doctor’s office, every supermarket, has the vaccine. etc. There’s no excuse. And we don’t know how the long the season will last.”
But just where to get it can prove problematic. On Thursday visitors to the Stop & Shop Pharmacy seeking the flu shot in Port Washington were told to come back Friday afternoon, when another shimpment was expected.
The same is true for other area pediatricians and pharmacies.
"Due to high demand caused by the early outbreak of influenza, some of our locations may experience intermittent, temporary shortages of flu vaccine, but we still have vaccine in stock and we resupply our pharmacies and clinics as quickly as possible," Mike DeAngelis, public relations director for CVS, told Patch.
According to Google's map of flu trends across the country, New York is in the grips of an "intense" flu season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called this flu season is one of the earliest and most deadly in years, causing the death of 18 children across the country.
"We are administering more flu shots this season than last. Last season, we administered over 2 million shots. This season, we’ve already administered 4 million shots," DeAngelis said.
Henry Powderly and Adina Genn contributed to this report.