Flu rates appear to be headed up. Have you had your flu shot yet?

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The number of confirmed flu cases in New York state is greater than the number of cases reported by this time last year, according to an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield review of New York state health data.

As of November 25, 854 cases of the flu have been confirmed in New York state. A year ago, New York state had reported 643 confirmed cases of the flu.

The number of hospitalizations associated with influenza this year (352 as of November 25) is also greater than the number of influenza-associated hospitalizations at this time last year (302 as of November 26, 2016).

“Most of the flu cases being reported now are from the Influenza A strain, which is a component of this year’s flu vaccine,” said Richard Lockwood, M.D., vice president and chief medical officer of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Central New York region. “The annual flu vaccine is designed to protect against three or four flu strains during a season.”

According to Lockwood, different flu strains can circulate at different times during a flu season that can extend to as late as May. “It’s never too late to get vaccinated,” he said.

During the 2016-2017 flu season in New York state, only half of the population ages 6 months and older got the flu vaccine. That resulted in 65,000 New Yorkers getting the flu. “The health of a community hinges on increasing the percentage of people who are vaccinated,” said Lockwood.

“That’s especially true this year, when the number of reported flu cases is on pace to exceed last year’s total,” he continued. “A flu shot not only protects you from getting the flu, but also protects others from catching the flu from you, so there’s a community benefit to getting a flu shot.”

Statistically, every 100 people who get the flu will infect 127 others. One person with the flu can infect other people one day before any symptoms develop, and up to about seven days after he/she becomes sick. The virus can spread to others who are within 6 feet of the infected individual, mainly through microscopic droplets that are expelled into the air when people cough, sneeze or talk.

For some people, the flu results in a fever, the chills, body aches, a cough and perhaps a runny nose. But for the very young, the very old, women who are pregnant, and individuals with certain health conditions, catching the flu can place them at high risk for much more serious complications, including death.

“It isn’t always obvious who among us is most vulnerable,” said Lockwood. “The best protection against the flu for you and for others is a yearly vaccination.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the 2015-2016 flu season, the flu vaccine prevented approximately 5.1 million cases of the flu in the U.S., 2.5 million influenza-associated medical visits, 71,000 hospitalizations, and an estimated 3,000 pneumonia and influenza deaths.

The CDC recommends annual flu vaccines for everyone 6 months and older. It takes about two weeks after the vaccine is administered for it to provide protection. Call your doctor to schedule a flu shot today, or visit vaccinefinder.org to find a clinic, pharmacy or other location that offers immunizations near you.

Link to Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s flu infographic:  Flu Shot Infographic. Link to Excellus  Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s supplemental information..