Flu season hits early, but vaccine effective so far

Flu season hit relatively early this year, but isn’t sending area residents rushing in droves to the hospital or doctor’s office yet.

The Mohawk Valley Health System has seen a handful of flu admissions to its hospitals and some more patients for whom flu is a secondary diagnosis, said spokeswoman Caitlin McCann. Several patients with flu-like illnesses also have showed up in the emergency room, but not a huge influx, she said.

“As far as the primary care offices, there has been a steady stream of patients presenting with flu-like symptoms, and the new rapid point of care testing already has yielded several positive cultures. The activity is normal for this time of year,” McCann said.

But flu was declared widespread in New York during the week ending Dec. 9 by the New York State Department of Health, earlier than last year. During the week ending on Dec. 16, there were 892 laboratory-confirmed flu reports, up 56 percent from the previous week and up from 602 reports during the same week in 2016. Those cases turned up in 56 counties, compared to 33 counties at the same time last year.

And 269 patients checked into hospitals in the state with the flu that week, compared to 162 during the same week last year.

The good news is that this year’s flu vaccine seems to be protecting against the right strain of the flu.

“Most of the flu cases being reported now are from the Influenza a strain, which is a component of this year’s flu vaccine,” said Dr. Richard Lockwood, vice president and chief medical officer of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Central New York region, in a release. “The annual flu vaccine is designed to protect against three or four flu strains during a season.”

Even though flu season has started, it’s not too late to get a shot if you haven’t had the flu yet, public health officials say. The shot is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older.

Contact reporter Amy Neff Roth at 315-792-5166 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Roth).