The number of confirmed flu cases reported to the Oneida County Health Department for the current season increased by more than 40 percent in just one week as flu is still considered widespread throughout New York.
For the week ending Jan. 5, 24 positive flu cases were reported to the county, up from 11 the week of Dec. 29 and 10 for the week ending Dec. 22. Through Jan. 5, the total was 76 cases on the season, which begins with October. This week, the state reported a 17 percent increase in lab-confirmed flu cases statewide, to 3,681.
In December, the state declaration that flu has become prevalent put into effect a regulation requiring that health care workers who are not vaccinated against influenza wear surgical or procedure masks in areas where patients are typically present.
Nationally, the federal Centers for Disease Control reported Friday that it estimates 6 million to 7 million people have been sick with the flu and 69,000 to 84,000 hospitalized with it. However, the season is less intense so far than last year, with the rate of influenza-like illness 3.5 percent compared to a peak of 7.5 percent last year. The agency reported severity indicators will likely rise and noted there have been 16 pediatric deaths reported from flu his season.
Public health authorities still recommend getting a flu shot. It usually takes two weeks for the flu vaccine to become fully effective, but flu activity usually peaks between December and February, and can last as long as May, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.
Many pharmacies now offer on-site vaccinations. A website can help find where to get a vaccine: vaccinefinder.org.
The Oneida County Health Department also offers vaccines, and most insurance plans cover it. Details are at 315-798-5747 and www.ocgov.net/health/flu.
In most parts of the country, most illnesses right now are being caused by a flu strain that leads to fewer hospitalizations and deaths as the kind of flu that dominated a year ago, according to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines also work better against it, said the CDC’s Dr. Alicia Fry.
So is the U.S. in for a milder flu season?
“If (this strain) continues to be the predominant virus, that is what we’d expect,” Fry said.
The CDC has no estimate of deaths so far this season, partly because it’s so early. Flu usually takes off after Christmas and peaks around February.
On Friday, the CDC released its regular weekly flu update, showing that it was reported to be widespread in 30 states last week, up from 24 the week before.
The health agency also released new estimates of how the flu season is playing out. It said:
About 6 million to 7 million Americans have become ill since flu season kicked off in the fall.
About half were sick enough to go to see a doctor.
Roughly 70,000 to 80,000 have been hospitalized.
The CDC usually doesn’t make those estimates until a flu season is over, but researchers have been working on the model for nearly a decade and believe it is sound enough to use while the season is still going on, officials said.
Because the model is new, CDC researchers said they aren’t able to compare those estimates to previous flu seasons.
Last season, an estimated 49 million Americans got sick from the flu, 23 million went for medical care and 960,000 were hospitalized.
Some doctors and nurses were anxious going into this flu season, considering how bad last year was, said Dr. James Steinberg, chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta.
But so far it hasn’t been nearly as severe. “It seems more like a typical flu season,” he said.