Flu Prevalence in Erie County Increases Significantly; Surveillance Data Shows Two-fold Increase in Past Two Weeks


 From the Office of the Commissioner of Health, Dr. Gale Burstein

December 30, 2014                          

CONTACT: Mary C. St. Mary/Mary.StMary@Erie.Gov

Phone: 716.858.4941/ Mobile: 716.253.3925

Flu Prevalence in Erie County Increases Significantly 

Surveillance Data Shows Two-fold Increase in Past Two Weeks

ERIE COUNTY, NY—Erie County experienced a rapid and significant increase in the number of positive tests for influenza (“flu”) reported to the Erie County Department of Health (“ECDOH”) in the past two weeks reports Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Commissioner of Health.  “Our surveillance data shows that the number of positive tests for influenza more than doubled in one week, representing an increase of 127%” Burstein added. The majority of these cases were the Influenza A strain.

ECDOH has been in touch with the local hospital systems who are reporting significant increases in patient volumes, and in particular, among elderly patients. Most people with the flu will have a mild illness and will not require medical care or antiviral drugs.

If you have flu symptoms and are very sick or worried about your illness, ECDOH urges you to contact your health care provider before you head to a hospital Emergency Department. If you do not have a primary care provider and need medical evaluation, seek care at an urgent care center. Emergency Department resources should be reserved for people who are very ill.

“It’s important to contact your primary care physician if you are concerned about your or your child’s flu symptoms” said Dr. Burstein. “Emergency Departments should be utilized for emergencies. Typically, flu can be treated at home. There is always the possibility that while awaiting treatment in an Emergency Department you may contract a contagious disease from another patient in the waiting room.”

Individuals having difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, or are dizzy and weak from possible dehydration, should seek medical evaluation immediately. Certain people, including young children, elderly persons, pregnant women and people with certain long-term medical conditions are at greater risk of serious flu-related complications. If you are in a high risk group and develop flu symptoms, contact your health care provider. Remind them about your high risk status for flu.

If you have the flu, stay at home and rest. Avoid close contact with well people in your house so you do not make them sick.  Drink plenty of liquids to prevent fluid loss (dehydration) and treat fever and other symptoms with over-the-counter medication.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), along with ECDOH, recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (except to get medical care or if there are things you have to do that no one else can do for you). Stay away from others as much as possible to keep from spreading influenza. If you must leave home, wear a face mask if you have one, or cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or into your arm. Wash your hands often to avoid transmitting the virus to others.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), there are no reports of local, regional, or national shortages of influenza antiviral drugs (e.g., Tamiflu®) from manufacturers. It is possible, however, that some spot shortages may occur in local areas. Due to the current elevated influenza activity, patients may have difficulty locating antiviral drugs and might have to contact more than one pharmacy in order to fill their prescriptions.

To be effective at treating and reducing the duration of influenza symptoms, antiviral treatment should be initiated within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. The CDC recommends initiation of antiviral treatment as early as possible (within the first 2 days of symptom onset), especially for those at high risk for complications, including children less than 2 years of age and individuals over 65 years. Antiviral therapies may reduce the severity of illness, decrease the risk of complications (including hospitalization) and shorten the duration of illness.

To Stay Healthy Frequent hand-washing is crucial so that illness is not spread from one person to another. Wash your hands carefully and thoroughly with soap and water, especially after using the toilet or changing diapers.  Always wash your hands before eating, preparing, or handling food. When sneezing or coughing, be sure to turn away from others and use a tissue to cover your mouth or nose and sneeze into the crook or your arm, rather than into your hands.

Get a Flu Shot Influenza can lead to severe respiratory illness requiring hospitalization and in some cases can be fatal. The flu season can last as late as May due to variations in the timing and duration of the season.  As long as flu season is not over, it is never too late to be vaccinated.  While this year’s vaccine does not protect against all of the flu strains in circulation currently, it is still highly recommended. Flu vaccines protect against three or four viruses (depending upon the type of vaccine you receive) so that even when there is a less than ideal match or lower effectiveness against one virus, the vaccine may protect against the other viruses. The flu vaccine is readily available in Erie County in physicians’ offices, pharmacies and other community sites.

What exactly is the Flu? It is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses, which can cause mild to severe illness.  It is especially important for certain populations at high risk for serious flu complications to get vaccinated.  Those people include:

  • People at high risk of developing serious complications like pneumonia if they get sick with the flu, including:
    • Individuals with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, morbid obesity, and chronic lung disease
    • Women who are pregnant, have recently given birth or are breast feeding
    • People 65 years and older
  • People who are immunosuppressed where their body’s immune system or ability to fight off infection may be impaired
  • People who live with or care for others who are at high risk of developing serious complications
  • Health care providers
  • Young children, especially those under 2 years of age

Symptoms of the Flu

The onset of flu is sudden: fever, muscle aches, chills, and extreme tiredness are common symptoms and help differentiate flu from other common respiratory viral infections, such as a cold. Some people may experience vomiting or diarrhea, although this is more common in children than adults. 

How is the Flu Spread?

Flu is spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby.  Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes.  The typical incubation period for flu is from 1 – 4 days (average: 2 days).  Adults can be infectious from one day before onset of symptoms to   5–7 days after the onset of illness. Most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks.

For more information

Erie County Department of Health - www.erie.gov/health

New York State Department of Health -- http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza/seasonal/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention –

What You Should Know for the 2014-2015 Influenza Season: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2014-2015.htm

Flu Symptoms & Severity: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/symptoms.htm

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Is It a Cold or the Flu? http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/Flu/Documents/sick.pdf

Is it Influenza or a Cold? http://www.tamiflu.com/hcp/management/hcp_flu_diagnosis.jsp

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