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Jan 9, 2018 9:56 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Number Of Flu Cases Increasing Locally As Cold Weather Arrives; Doctors Recommend Vaccines

Stony Brook Southampton Hospital Chief Medical Officer Fredric Weinbaum with the flu shot.  DANA SHAW
Jan 10, 2018 1:19 PM

As temperatures dropped to record-breaking lows last week, the number of influenza cases on the East End has continued to spike.

After the flu virus was declared “prevalent” by the State Health Commissioner last month, health officials from Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, Peconic Bay Medical Center and East Hampton Healthcare Center all have scrambled to implement safety protocols at their facilities to help prevent the spread of the potentially deadly disease.

“Flu prevention is a top priority,” said Stony Brook Southampton Hospital Chief Medical Officer Fredric Weinbaum. “Somewhere in early December the flu started to be significantly prevalent in Southampton, and that prevalence has continued to increase.”

During flu season—which runs from October to May—officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that flu-related hospitalizations range from 140,000 to 710,000 per year nationally, while flu-related deaths range from 12,000 to 56,000.

Though Dr. Weinbaum said it’s too early to tell just how many flu-related cases have been reported this year locally, he said that the CDC estimates an average of 10 million to 30 million cases in the United States this year.

Dr. Alexandre Andrianov, the chief of medicine at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, also said he could not estimate the number of flu-related admissions, although he expects to see many more cases in the coming months. “If you go down to the emergency room, it’s almost guaranteed that there are at least one or two cases down there,” he said.

Dr. George Dempsey, the medical director of East Hampton Family Medicine at the East Hampton Healthcare Center, reported at least 25 walk-in patients on Monday, saying that the majority of them tested positive for the flu.

“It’s a pretty large number of people coming in this past week,” he continued. “It’s been heavy.”

Dr. Gail Schonfeld, an East Hampton pediatrician, reported on Tuesday that her office has yet to see any cases in young children in the past few weeks, but noted that she will likely see patients in the coming weeks.

“Flu is a seasonal kind of thing,” she said. “I think within a week or two we’ll be seeing cases in our office.”

Dr. Weinbaum added that the spike in reported cases is more than likely due to the particular strain of influenza this year, known as influenza A, or H3N2, a more severe strain of the virus when compared to last year’s strain of H1N1.

While symptoms such as fever, chills, coughing, fatigue and vomiting are typically the same in both strains, traditional flu vaccines, called “trivalent” vaccines, are only 30 percent effective against H3N2. The vaccine is more than 60 percent effective against H1N1.

“Right now, we’re dealing with a virus that changes,” Dr. Weinbaum said. “Particularly with H3N2, there tend to be greater variations in the heart of the virus—therefore, vaccines are less likely to be completely effective.”

“People complain that we can’t get the vaccine right, [but] it mutates too fast,” Dr. Dempsey added on Tuesday. “That’s why it’s such a major health epidemic.”

To help prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus, employees at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, Peconic Bay Medical Center and the East Hampton Healthcare Center are now required to get the flu vaccine or wear surgical face masks throughout their shifts, according to hospital officials.

Marsha Kenny, the director of marketing and public affairs for Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, said no clinical employees of the hospital were available for a phone interview due to the influx of patients on Monday.

The local hospital officials were unanimous that everyone who is able to get a flu vaccine should, every year—even now, in the midst of the flu season.

“An annual flu vaccine remains the single best method for preventing the flu,” Dr. Weinbaum said.

Dr. Schonfeld agreed: “There’s not much you can do to help prevent the spread, other than be vaccinated.”

Dr. Andrianov explained that the flu vaccine contains a protein similar to one found in the influenza virus. Essentially, the vaccine tricks the human body into thinking it has contracted influenza, and it activates the production of antibodies throughout the body. “If you have antibodies in your system, it prevents [the virus] from attaching and multiplying in your body,” Dr. Weinbaum added, noting that it takes approximately one to two weeks for the antibodies to develop.

Kathleen Fitzgerald of Hampton Bays has gotten the flu shot every year since 2013, when she was hospitalized for pneumonia and diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She said this week that she is not taking any chances in the new year.

“I am in a high-risk group,” she said. “I am also exposed to four grandchildren.”

The 69-year-old mother of two added that her grandchildren, all of whom are less than12 years old, visit at least three weekends a month. With her condition, she said she needs to take extra precautions. “My getting the flu shot is to protect me from them,” she said.

Dr. Weinbaum confirmed Ms. Fitzgerald’s fear this week, explaining that the majority of patients being seen this year at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital have been 65 and over.

“It’s a very serious illness,” he said. “It’s not something that people should think, ‘Oh, it’s just the flu.’ It can lead to death in older patients particularly.”

As for prevention in children, Dr. Schonfeld said this week that there isn’t much parents can do besides having their children vaccinated. She added that keeping children home from school is ineffective, as the majority of children who contract the virus are sick before they even begin to show symptoms.

“It isn’t an effective strategy,” Dr. Schonfeld said. “It just means they miss more school.”

While Dr. Weinbaum, Dr. Andrianov, and Dr. Schonfeld agree that the vaccine is most effective in battling the virus, Dr. Weinbaum stressed that the flu vaccine is not perfect, especially when faced with the H3N2 strain. He explained that those who opt to receive the vaccine this year still have a 60 percent chance of contracting the virus due to the severity of the strain, as well the recent drops in temperature.

He explained that while the cold weather does not cause the virus, people tend to congregate indoors during cold weather, creating a breeding ground for bacteria.

Dr. Dempsey agreed: “Indoors, everything is sealed up, [so] the virus can attach easier and infect easier.”

“That’s why it’s important for people to wash their hands constantly,” Dr. Andrianov said, explaining that physical contact is the most common way to contract the virus.

In addition to hand washing, both health care facilities are cracking down on strictly enforcing standard practices such as the use of hand sanitizers, goggles and gowns. In addition, antiseptic wipes are placed in patient rooms, work stations, hallways and treatment areas so hospital employees can sanitize medical equipment and surface areas.

“My recommendation is to get vaccinated,” Dr. Weinbaum said. “It’s the right thing to do for the sake of the community. It’s not too late.”

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The same CDC that is prosecuting doctors for treating Lyme patients long term wants us to get this cocktail shot into our system to keep us healthy. No adverse side affects at all, guaranteed!
By icecreamman (395), Southampton on Jan 10, 18 1:52 PM
Rich people in the Hamptons don’t need to wash their hands. The germs can’t afford the real estate.
By Mouthampton (409), Southampton on Jan 10, 18 8:51 PM