The flu is striking with vengeance this season, and it's becoming increasingly more difficult to find flu shots.
The New York State Department of Health reports the flu is widespread. Doctors and clinic that provide statistics to the state report patient visits for influenza-like illnesses was 6.82 percent, which is above the regional baseline of 2 percent.
Offices, like Meeting House Lane Medical in Montauk, are out of flu shots. Ken Dodge, a physician assistant there, said they ran out on Thursday, and there's been an increase in the cases of the flu.
"We’ve pretty much been inundated," Dodge said on Friday. "It’s throught the whole community, through the schools, pretty much laying a lot of people out." There are other viral illnesses, such a nasty stomach bug, going around, he said.
Dodge is hoping to get some more of the flu vaccine in, but wasn't sure exactly when.
"I've seen several cases so far today," said Dr. Gail Schonfeld, of East End Pediatrics in East Hampton, on Friday around noon. "It really is at its height," but she said it is too early to analyze the data she sends an influenza surveillance site for the department of health, and to tell if the flu in East Hampton is really any worse than it was last year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that 18 children nationally have died of flu so far this year, with cases reported in nearly every state
The flu, Schonfeld said, hit a few weeks earlier than usual. "This flu season hit about two weeks ago, and yes, it is increasing," she said. "Last year was an incredibly mild season, the mildest in 50 years. I think people kind of thought it was gone or something."
Southampton Hospital spokesman Marsha Kenny said, anecdotally, patient volume is up in the emergency room. “We have an uptick in census in the emergency department," Kenny said. "A lot of peole are coming in, some people with flu symptoms, and some people who are just really sick.”
Kenny said that when people has flu symptoms, they should go to their primary care physician right away, instead of waiting until they are very ill and heading to the emergency room.
It's not too late to protect yourself or your children. "Yes, it’s a still good idea to get vaccinated. But, it was a better idea in September and October," Schonfeld said.
The vaccine takes about two weeks to protect against the virus. The predominant strain is Influenza A. The good news, she said, is that "it appears that this year's flu vaccine is performing very well for those who got it." It still remains to be seen, she said, if a different strain pops up. .
Finding the flu shot may prove to be a problem at this point in the season.
Her office only has about 30 does left of the vaccine, and she said it will be gone by early next week.
CVS Pharmacy in East Hampton is currently out of flu shots, but expects to be restocked next week.
"Due to high demand caused by the early outbreak of influenza, some of our locations may experience intermittent, temporary shortages of flu vaccine, but we still have vaccine in stock and we resupply our pharmacies and clinics as quickly as possible," said Mike DeAngelis, the director of public relations at CVS/pharmacy. "Shortages are intermittent and temporary so we don’t have a regional breakdown," he said.
However, CVS is administering twice the amount of shots than last season — the chain pharmacy has already administered 4 million shots nationally. We are administering more flu shots this season than last. Last season, we administered over 2 million shots. This season, we’ve already administered 4 million shots.
Though the flu shot is not offered at White's Pharmacy in East Hampton, pharmacist Vincent Alibrandi said he has seen an increase in people coming in for the flu and flu-like symptoms. "We are doing well with keeping enough in stock to handle the demand," he said, referring to prescription and over-the-counter medications.
Wainscott Walk-In Medical Center still has the vaccine for those under 21 and those over 65, who are among the most vulnerable. The walk-in center is completely out for adults in between those ages.
The best advice, Dodge said for those who are hoping to avoid the flu, is to remember to wash their hands often and to stay away from people who are ill. He recommended Tamiflu to try and avoid catching the flu from a family member who has already been diagnosed.
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