Sheltered from the flu: Few cases reported, none serious

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | It’s all smiles at Shelter Island School as Nurse Mary Kanarvogel said absences from class were running at normal rates so far for this time of year.

The viral flu that is walloping many people through much of the nation has taken little toll here.

That’s the word from both the Shelter Island Family Medicine practice and nurse Mary Kanarvogel at Shelter Island School.

“There are a lot of people coming in for flu shots,” said Christine Goree, office manager of Shelter Island Family Medicine. But no one has shown up at the office with severe flu symptoms, she added.

The fact people are getting immunized and that many year-round residents tend to stay put in the winter might be factors, Ms. Goree said.

Physician’s Assistant John Reilly reported Monday afternoon  he had just run out of vaccine, but expected a delivery late in the afternoon or by Tuesday morning.

“The Shelter Island population is pretty good about getting the vaccine,” he said, and that’s one reason, he thinks numbers of flu victims here have been relatively low.

Most  patients who have shown up at Shelter Island Family Medicine thinking they had the flu had bronchitis or another respiratory ailment, he said. He has seen only two confirmed cases of flu and those were people who had west coast visitors who likely infected them.

Neither Eastern Long Island Hospital nor Southampton Hospital had figures that would separate out Shelter Island patients from those who live on the North or South forks. But Ms. Goree said the family medical practice here hasn’t had to send any patients with flu symptoms to the hospitals.

At Shelter Island School, absences are in line with those typical for this time of year, Ms. Kanarvogel reported.

“Not any more than usual which is awesome,” she said.

Both Eastern Long Island Hospital and Southampton Hospital have seen increases in the number of patients arriving with respiratory difficulties stemming from the flu. There’s a 20 to 25 percent increase in patients with respiratory ailments “that could be related to the flu” at ELIH, spokeswoman Eileen Solomon said.

Southampton Hospital didn’t have figures available, but spokeswoman Marcia Kenny said “volume in the emergency rooms is definitely up.” Part of the problem is many patients don’t see a primary care doctor when they get sick because they lack insurance coverage. They arrive in the emergency room when their symptoms become severe, Ms. Kenny said.

Statewide, Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared a state of emergency, maintaining this is the “worst flu season since at least 2009.”Flu is widespread throughout New York State with cases reported in all 57 counties and all five boroughs of New York City, the governor said. That totalled more than 19,000 reported cases.

Two children in New York state have died along with 18 children throughout the country. The governor directed that pharmacists be allowed to administer flu shots, not only to adults, but to children between the ages of six months and 18 years old. As of Monday, chains like CVS that administer the immunizations to adults, were checking their policies to assure they could extend the service to children.

Hospitalizations due to the flu have doubled from what the numbers were last year, Mr. Cuomo said.

For more on the flu outbreak, see Thursday’s Reporter.