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This flu season may be mild but it's not over yet, city warns

"We never know what a flu season will be like until it's over," Dr. Jane R. Zucker said.

It's not too late to get your flu

It's not too late to get your flu shot, especially with a more severe strain starting to emerge, experts advise.  Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

We aren’t out of the woods yet this flu season.

Experts warn New Yorkers against becoming complacent, even if this year’s outbreak does not match the severity of the 2017-18 epidemic that overwhelmed hospitals.

“We never know what a flu season will be like until it’s over,” said Dr. Jane R. Zucker, assistant commissioner for the Bureau of Immunization at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “And we are still in the middle of this year’s flu season.”

She also pointed that there have been two pediatric deaths in the city attributed to flu so far this season. The Health Department said privacy rules bar it from disclosing whether the children were vaccinated or had underlying health conditions.

“That’s two more than we would want,” Zucker said.

Across the state, there were 9,376 laboratory confirmed flu cases and more than 1,227 people hospitalized for the flu, according to statistics from the state Department of Health for the week ending February 16.

That’s markedly less than February 17, 2018, data from the state Health Department  that showed 18,258 people with lab-confirmed flu and 2,160 hospitalized.

The numbers have dipped in recent weeks, showing 6,493 confirmed cases across the state for the week ending March 9 of this year. That’s higher than the 3,692 confirmed cases for the week ending March 10, 2018.

While this year’s flu has been primarily the H1N1 strain, the more severe H3N2 is starting to emerge, Zucker said, adding that it’s not too late for people to get their flu shots.

“We may get hit with a second wave,” Zucker said. “It’s really emerging now and we will have to watch what our surveillance data shows. … We have seen outbreaks as late as May.”

People over the age of 65 and young children are especially at risk during flu season. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 185 pediatrics deaths nationwide during the 2017-18 flu season, and about 80 percent were children who had not received a flu vaccination that year.

“While many of the children do have an underlying illness, influenza also kills healthy children,” Zucker said. “A child who is vaccinated is less likely to die.”

The CDC said it cannot provide an exact number of adults who die from the flu each year because states are not required to report flu illnesses or deaths for people over the age of 18.

Zucker said it’s vital that people do not confuse the flu with a common cold or a stomach virus.

The CDC describes the flu as a “contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs” that can cause mild to severe illness and even death.

The illness can be marked by a fever, sore throat, cough, muscle aches, joint pains and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.

The Health Department website has flu information and a map that can help people find a place to get vaccinated, even if they’re uninsured, Zucker said.

“There’s nothing predictable about influenza,” she said. “The only thing that is predictable is that it will come every year.”

With Ivan Pereira

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