Quiet flu season so far on the Island

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | A patient at the Town Medical Center receiving a vaccine that doctors maintain is the best preventative against flu.

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | A patient at the Town Medical Center receiving a vaccine that doctors maintain is the best preventative against flu.

Think you’ve successfully avoided the flu so far?

You might be out of the woods, say experts at the Centers for Disease Control and the New York State Department of Health.

New York was among the early leaders in flu statistics nationally, and those stats say the illness has moderated in the past month and there has been little indication of the winter plague here on Shelter Island or on the East End.

The flu season in this area typically begins in October and generally peaks in late January, so experts are advising that those who are able but haven’t yet gotten flu shots, should do so promptly.

On Shelter Island, there has been only a single diagnosed case, according to Dr. Peter Kelt. Nor has there been any run of flu medications at Shelter Island Heights Pharmacy, according to Suzanne Frujita. She has seen customers buying over-the-counter cold medications, but the pharmacy hasn’t filled any Tamiflu prescriptions — the medication said to shorten flu symptoms — so far this winter.

“Wouldn’t that be wonderful” if the flu didn’t reach Shelter Island this year, Ms. Frujita said.

School nurse Mary Kanarvogel said she hasn’t seen any students complaining of flu symptoms — typically fever or feeling feverish and then having chills, a cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache and fatigue.

“I’m knocking wood,” she said. She thought more people might be taking the flu vaccine now, adding that it appears to be the right vaccine for the strains of the flu around this year. When the vaccine is developed each year, it requires some guess work about what strains are likely to emerge, she said.

Despite all the good news so far in this 2013-14 flu season, both Eastern Long Island and Southampton hospitals aren’t taking any chances, directing staff members to employ preventive measures.

Personnel at both hospitals have been vaccinated in line with New York State Department of Health guidelines. This year, hospitals and nursing homes and other medical facilities are required to document for both the state and federal government the number and percentage of personnel who have been vaccinated.

The annual flu vaccine is the best method to prevent the spread of flu, said Pat Kiernan, vice president of community relations at Eastern Long Island Hospital. Dr. Lawrence Shiff, head of the hospital’s emergency medicine department, said the staff there hasn’t been inundated with people with flu symptoms, at least not yet, according to Eileen Solomon, assistant director of the hospital’s Foundation and Community Relations.

Deborah Maile, director of infection prevention at Southampton Hospital, said flu prevention is a priority and employees “work every day to lessen the spread of flu virus by adhering to strict infection control practices.”

The New York State Department of Health recorded 45,352 confirmed flu cases last year and 9,537 patients had to be hospitalized, with 14 pediatric deaths resulting from the flu.

While everyone is susceptible to the flu virus, the illness can be particularly devastating for seniors and very young children to endure, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

What’s critical, according to the CDC, is that people realize they may be able to pass on the virus to others even before they know they’re sick, so they need to take precautions about being certain to sneeze or cough into a tissue and washing their hands.

“Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick,” the CDC advises. Young children and people with compromised immune systems may be able to infect others for a longer period of time.

Complications from flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.