Medical professionals are urging parents to get their children and themselves vaccinated now as a nasty flu strain is turning into a national epidemic.
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, including reported 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,” said Sood, director of pediatrics at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore. “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.
“We are definitely seeing an increased number of patients coming in with flu-like symptoms," said Dr. Alan Mensch, senior vice president of medical affairs at Plainview and Syosset hospitals" "We have at least 10 percent of our population in the hospital who are either positive for the flu or are being tested for the flu."
Plainview is attempting to open up new beds and has set up a command center to coordinate staffing related to treating these patients, said Mensch, a pulmonologist.
Some of the symptoms of the flu that people should be aware of are fever, a bronchial cough and achiness. Those with symptoms should contact their doctors, unless the flu is aggravating other illnesses, he said.
Demand for shots is on the rise nationally:
"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," said Mike DeAngelis, public relations director for the CVS pharmacy chain.
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.
"Last season, we administered over 2 million shots, DeAngelis said. "This season, we’ve already administered 4 million shots."
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Sood, who is also an attending doctor in infectious diseases at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, emphasized the need for children to be protected. 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," Sood said. "That’s really, really sad."
Joe Dowd and Henry Powderly contributed to this report.