Montefiore Medical Center infectious disease experts are urging the public to get vaccinated against influenza in one of the most severe and longest flu seasons in a decade.
Montefiore has seen an influx of flu cases over recent weeks with as many as 40 percent of people who are seeking care in the emergency departments testing positive for influenza. This mirrors dramatic increases in cases across the state and in many parts of the nation. More than 15,000 cases have already been reported in New York State, nearly triple compared to last year, while hospitalizations are up 169 percent.
"Our clinics and emergency departments are overwhelmingly busy with both adult and pediatric flu cases," said Dr. Brian Currie, vice president and medical director for research at Montefiore. "Only those with severe symptoms or people living with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease or other illnesses that weaken the immune system should visit the emergency department if they have the flu."
To manage the surge of patients, Montefiore is extending hours at several of its community urgent care sites. For the majority of people, flu symptoms (e.g., high fever, sore throat, cough, fatigue, headaches and muscle aches) are relatively mild, and those patients should stay home and call their primary care physician.
"Those at greatest risk of complications from flu are children under the age of two, pregnant women and adults over the age of 65," Dr. Currie said. "People are urged to stay home and not go to school or work to if they are sick, in order to prevent further transmission of the flu."
It is not too late to get vaccinated. Antibodies that protect against the flu develop in about two weeks after vaccination, and the flu season is expected to continue through the spring. Those interested in getting a flu shot can visit clinics run by the Department of Health, area hospitals, including Montefiore, and commercial pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS and Duane Reade.
Because the influenza virus is constantly mutating, scientists develop the annual vaccine against the strain they believe will be most common, though it is not guaranteed to be an exact match. This year's vaccine can provide good protection against H3N2, the influenza strain that has emerged this season. Experts believe that about 90 percent of the viruses found in testing are well-matched to the current vaccine.
In addition to getting vaccinated, Montefiore experts urge everyone to take common sense steps to prevent the spread of germs, including:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand rub. • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze -- even consider coughing into your elbow to reduce the spread of germs from your hand. • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way. • When sick, stay home and limit contact with other people.
"Everyone can play an important role in preventing the devastating impact of the flu," Dr. Currie said.
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