With concerns about a flu epidemic sending many Riverhead residents hurrying for a flu shot - and some stores reporting dwinding supplies -- Peconic Bay Medical Center officials have reported a higher number of flu cases this year than during the same time period a year ago.
According to Denise Gluck, nursing director for emergency medical services at PBMC, the hospital has seen an approximately 25 percent higher overall number of flu cases than what is normal for the current time of year.
"We've already exceeded the total number of cases we saw last year and we expect the season to last another two months," Gluck said.
As for reports that the flu is considered an epidemic, Gluck said, "It appears to be."
Gluck said so far, PBMC has seen between ten and 12 confirmed flu cases. And, she added, "Not everyone that comes in with symptoms gets the actual flu test. A lot of times people are being sent home with just a presumptive diagnosis."
A larger number of individuals than in years' past have been inquiring about getting a flu shot, Gluck added. "They're much more interested in actually getting it," she said.
To keep patients safe, Gluck said there are signs posted at the entrances to the hospital and emergency room in English and Spanish, advising visitors that if they have a cough, fever or other flu symptoms, to please grab a mask.
And, Gluck said, if there is no treatment room immediately available to isolate potential flu cases, individuals are seated in a separate area than the general public in the waiting room so there is no contamination.
Tips for avoiding the flu, Gluck said, include staying well-hydrated, getting plenty or rest, and washing hands often. "And if you're sick -- stay home," she said.
Flu symptoms include body aches, cough, and a persistent fever between 104 and 105 degrees that might go down and spike immediately back up.
On Friday, citing the rise in the number of flu cases in New York State and nationwide, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken urged all residents who have not yet received the season’s flu vaccination to get their flu shot as soon as possible. Flu season runs from October through May.
“It’s not too late to get your flu shot,” Bellone said. “This isn’t just about protecting yourself, getting a flu shot is about protecting your family and those closest to you.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that this year’s influenza vaccine is a very good match for the flu strain that is currently circulating nationwide. The CDC recommends that children six months of age and older should be immunized against influenza. Children under age nine may need to return for a second dose of immunization during their first season of vaccination.
“Most people who become infected with the flu will suffer with fever, congestion, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches over the course of a week or two and will eventually recover completely, said Tomarken. “However, some are at greater risk for serious complications that can lead to hospitalization or even death. The good news is that immunization can help protect us from the flu.”
Though this year’s flu vaccine has shown to be 62 percent effective, some individuals may still get the flu; however, their symptoms will be milder than if they had not received the vaccine, Bellone said.
In addition, Bellone said students and adults should stay home from school or work if they develop influenza-like illness, such as fever, congestion, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches lasting a week or two.
Flu sufferers are advised to wash their hands often and cover coughs and sneezes, using a tissue and throwing it away quickly. If no tissue is available, experts advise coughing or sneezing into an upper sleeve, not hands, to prevent the spread of germs.
Finally, individuals who are particularly vulnerable to complications from influenza should seek medical attention at the first signs of illness. Included on the list are mature adults over 65 years of age, young children, pregnant women, those with diabetes, heart disease, neurological conditions, or chronic lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and those who are severely obese.