Flu epidemic hits Nassau County


The Nassau University Medical Center, in East Meadow, has seen an increase in recent days of patients who are suffering from influenza-like illnesses, according to Dr. Steven Walerstein, the NUMC’s medical director.

The initial group of patients, Walerstein said, were mostly children, but the hospital has been seeing more adults and elderly patients in the past few days.

To prepare for the flu season, he said, the hospital made sure that all of its workers were vaccinated, and reminded of the importance of frequent hand-washing.

Walerstein described this as the worst flu season in the past three years. “The past two years were quiet years,” he said. “It is showing all signs that this next week or so can become a significant flu outbreak, the worse we’ve had in a while.”

The most important point of emphasis, he said, is that it is not too late to get a flu vaccination. “It takes two weeks for the vaccination to take effect,” he said. “Historically, the flu … usually peaks in February and March, so if you haven’t been vaccinated, you should be vaccinated now.”

Symptoms of influenza include the combination of a fever and either a cough or a sore throat. Anybody who is experiencing these symptoms, Walerstein said, should immediately contact their primary care physician.

Going to an emergency room, however, may not be the best idea. “When flu epidemics get bad, the worst thing is to bring patients into emergency rooms or hospitals,” he said, “because everyone winds up infecting each other.

“If you’re young and healthy, without significant illnesses like heart disease or lung disease,” he added, “the best advice is to stay home, take Tylenol and fluids and just ride it out.”

Antibiotics, such as penicillin, are useless against the flu, upper respiratory infections and viruses,” Walerstein explained. “But there are anti-flu medicines that, for high-risk patients, if started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, may be useful in decreasing the severity of the flu,” he said.

Those who are 65 or older, who are pregnant or who have conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disease are more likely candidates for such anti-flu medicines if they experience symptoms, and should immediately contact their doctor.

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