After the flu-related deaths of nearly 70 children across the country and increased cases in Nassau County, doctors are warning about an “epidemic.”
“We’ve seen a lot of cases in the hospital, and there have been about 20 million cases across the country this year so far,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, the epidemiologist for the Department of Medicine at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital and a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Across the entire country, across the state and across Long Island, many hospitals and urgent-care centers have been very, very busy. This season is heavier than last year.”
Glatt recommended that Nassau residents get vaccinated, and noted that they should wash their hands frequently this time of year and cover their mouths if they sneeze or cough. He also said that people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms should stay home and away from others. According to Glatt, less than half of the country’s population gets vaccinated during flu season.
“The more people who are vaccinated, the less of a problem it would be from a public health point of view,” he said.
Glatt said there had been about 20 million cases of the flu across the country this year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been at least 19 million cases, 180,000 hospitalizations and 10,000 deaths since October. Influenza, a contagious respiratory illness, can cause serious complications in young children, the elderly and people with certain health conditions. Though it is unclear when the flu season might peak, New York has a history of most cases occurring in February.
Glatt explained that the B strain of influenza has been seen more often this season than the A strain. He said the strains are “like siblings,” but biologically and microscopically, there are differences in their components. The vaccine is better suited for the A strain, and the B strain is more prominent in children. Though the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, most people who contract the flu and were vaccinated experience milder symptoms.
MSSN's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Adhi Sharma also urged residents to get vaccinated.
“The flu shot is considered the single best preventive method against the flu, so if you haven’t been vaccinated, yet, please do so; it is never too late to get vaccinated,” he said. “The vaccine may not be 100 percent effective, but people who are vaccinated and contract the flu have less severe symptoms.”
In New York, more than 15,000 new lab-confirmed cases of the flu were recorded for the week ending Jan. 25, according to the state Health Department. The number was twice the 6,917 cases logged for the same week last year.
The flu outbreak comes amid a heavy focus on the 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December. It has since spread to more than 25 countries, and has caused more than 900 deaths.
On Feb. 7, Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent out a release urging New Yorkers to get vaccinated and noting that they have a higher risk of contracting the flu than the coronavirus. “We went through this before: Zika virus, Ebola, et cetera,” he said, “but let’s have some connection to the reality of the situation . . . Catching the flu right now is a much greater risk than anything that has anything to do with coronavirus.”
Though there has been a great deal of buzz about the coronavirus, Glatt said he wanted people to be aware of the dangers of the flu, and to get vaccinated. “It is a seasonal illness, and sometimes it’s heavier than others, and we don’t know why,” he said. “We only know afterward how successful the vaccine was, but most years it’s successful, it’s just a question of how successful. It’s not too late to get vaccinated.”