Flu season less severe so far, but insurer still urges caution

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Fewer cases of flu have been reported across New York so far this season, but the major health insurer Excellus BlueCross BlueShield warns that flu cases can flare up anytime and is calling for the state’s residents to get a flu vaccine, take other precautions and consult telemedicine providers if they come down with symptoms or go and see a doctor in person.

Through Jan. 12, the state Department of Health confirmed 16,029 cases of flu, 1,333 fewer than through the same time last season, according to Excellus’ review of state flu surveillance data.

“That’s good news, and evidence that this year’s flu vaccine is hitting the bull’s-eye,” said LouAnne Giangreco, M.D., vice president and chief medical officer, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

“The dominant flu strain this year, so far, is type A H1N1, which is among the strains included in this season’s vaccine,” Giangreco added.

However, only about on in three upstate adults gets the flu vaccine. Giangreco stressed the social responsibility of being vaccinated.

“Someone carrying the flu virus can spread it to unsuspecting people up to about 6 feet away, mainly by expelling microscopic droplets into the air when talking, coughing or sneezing,” Giangreco added. 

Last year’s flu, and complications from flu, killed 80,000 people — the highest U.S. influenza death toll in 40 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The Oneida County Health Department reported 34 confirmed flu cases the week ending Jan. 12, bringing the season total to 110.

Public health authorities say that while the vaccine typically takes two weeks to produce full immunity, it’s not too late to get vaccinated for this season. The season is considered to be October through May and the number of cases typically peaks in January or February.

Excellus says people who are very sick with flu, or people who are at high risk of serious flu complications when they develop flu symptoms, should see their doctor early in their illness for possible treatment with a flu antiviral drug.

If that’s not possible, a telemedicine visit with the patient’s own doctor or with a telemedicine provider is an option.

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