The Flu Epidemic: How the Virus is Impacting Long Island
By Michael Sinkewicz and Jeremy Skiba
Long Island continues to be overrun by the flu, leaving thousands of people in both Nassau and Suffolk County infected. Nationwide, 97 pediatric deaths have been attributed to the flu. Although deaths are down from last year, overall flu activity is higher than past seasons.
Flu on Long Island
On Long Island, the health community is taking this season’s onset seriously.
“It has not peaked yet. We’re still urging people to get vaccinated,” said Mary Ellen Laurain, the Nassau County Health Department spokeswoman.
The number of flu cases has continued to rise each week in Nassau while Suffolk County has been stable. The Nassau County Health Department made an effort to help the community by offering free flu shot clinics. The department’s last of three opportunities was on February 15 at the Yes We Can Center in Westbury. Laurain stated that over 3,000 residents were vaccinated at the clinics.
Although the Health Department’s program has ended, they are still trying to make a difference by helping other medical organizations.
“Any sort of public announcement to reach people is the best way to help,” said Laurain.
The Health Department donated pediatric and adult vaccines to South Nassau Communities Hospital to help aid their work.
Impact on Children
Laurain stated that her organization reached out to schools to advise children to get vaccinated.
During most flu seasons, children under four years of age are near the top of the list with highest levels of infection and hospitalization rates. Surprisingly, these figures are down along with the mortality rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Long Island, however, the number of children infected with the flu has increased.
Karen E, the office manager at RBK Pediatrics in Commack, Long Island, who only wanted to have her last initial used for confidentiality reasons, said her office has seen an increase of “75 percent” in flu patients this year.
She stated that this year’s flu strains are worse than past years and that what is happening is not normal.
She added that young children may be vulnerable to the flu because they frequently put their hands in their mouths and before washing them go on to touch other children.
Impact on Senior Citizens
On a national level, people are being hospitalized with the flu at a rate of 74.5 per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This rate greatly increases to 322 per 100,000 for people age 65 and older.
The Town of Hempstead has 15 senior centers, with residents over 55 years of age. Knowing that flu symptoms can have a particularly severe impact on seniors, Mary Elizabeth Wetterau, a field representative at Town of Hempstead Department of Senior Enrichment, tries to stay a step ahead.
“We give the seniors info and advice them on getting flu shots. We try to be as proactive as possible,” said Wetterau.
The Senior Enrichment Department oversees all 15 senior centers and holds free flu shot clinics as early as October.
The effectiveness of the flu vaccine this season has not been as high as past seasons. Almost two-thirds of confirmed flu cases have been influenza A. Of these cases, over 75% involve the H3N2 virus. The vaccine has been less effective against this strain than the other influenza A types.
“It has not peaked yet. We’re still urging people to get vaccinated”
New York State
Every state except Hawaii and Oregon have had extensive flu activity. New York has had its worst flu season in over five years. The state has had an unprecedented number of cases and hospitalizations.
The data shows that this has been an abnormal flu season in New York. As bad as it’s been, it’s possible that the season hasn’t reached its peak yet and that the flu isn’t disappearing any time soon.