By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star
---- — New York state recorded fewer influenza cases last week for the first time since mid-November, but the decline was small, and the illness was reported in every one of the state’s counties, according to data released Thursday by the state Health Department.
The Health Department said flu was “widespread” and reported the state’s second pediatric flu fatality for the season, which started Oct. 1. The state and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not track adult deaths.
Regional officials reported elevated rates, but, for the most part, nothing suggesting an emergency.
“We have seen flu rise,” said Kathy Giunta-Lenci of Delaware Valley Hospital in Walton. “It started in December. For the month of December, I’ve only really had four admissions to the hospital due to the flu. We have seen some other cases of it, and we are seeing it in the (emergency department). But fortunately I feel we’re not at crisis level like some areas of the county are and some of the state.”
Nevertheless, health officials say that it’s not too late to receive a vaccine. Flu season typically extends into late March.
“We do have flu vaccine available, and we are encouraging those within Otsego County to be vaccinated,” said Theresa Oellrich, communicable disease coordinator for the county.
Otsego residents who want to be vaccinated can call 547-4230 to set up an appointment. The charge is $25, except for seniors covered by Medicare part B, for whom the vaccine is free.
Oellrich said that Otsego had 125 laboratory-confirmed cases of flu for the season as of Wednesday, adding that the county’s first case wasn’t recorded until Nov. 2, which is “very late.”
“We’ve seen an increase, I’d say, in the last week and a half,” she said.
Like much of the United States, New York has experienced a surge in confirmed flu cases since early December. The state Health Department reported 4,059 confirmed cases statewide in the week ending Jan. 5, 7 percent less than the previous week, when cases peaked — at least so far — at 4,348.
The “confirmed” is important because not everyone with an upper respiratory illness is tested for flu. Indeed, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes a second category, influenza-like illnesses, or ILIs, in its weekly reports.
In Chenango County, 220 cases, with no fatalities, had been confirmed, compared with 30 for the entire season in 2011-12, Marianne Kirsch, director of patient services for the county Health Department, wrote in an email. Last season’s first case wasn’t reported until January, she said.
The age range of confirmed cases this season has been two months to 100 years old, she added.
Chenango residents older than six months can receive free vaccines by calling 337-1660, she said, explaining that earlier fees had been waived because of the increased number of cases.
Broome County had 439 confirmed cases as of last Friday, a county health official said. It had its first confirmed case Oct. 21.
At some area hospitals, the numbers of cases peaked in mid or late December.
“While the flu appears to be prevalent in the area, at Bassett Medical Center we are not yet seeing a significant spike in cases,” said Ruth Blackman, director of quality resources management at the Cooperstown hospital.
“Our peak number of patients hospitalized with flu was five a week three weeks ago. For the last two weeks, it was four each week.”
Joanne Gleba, director of patient services at Cobleskill Regional Hospital said the hospital had five confirmed cases — all in December, before the holidays.
“Since I last checked about a week ago, there haven’t been any new ones,” she said.
Nevertheless, the Cobleskill hospital had instituted restrictions on visitors, she said.
Only two visitors at a time may enter the rooms of patients, and no one under age 13 will be permitted to visit.
Other institutions, such as the A.O. Fox Nursing Home in Oneonta and Bassett Medical Center have dropped or curtailed restrictions they enforced in last month.
Bassett is barring visitors under the age of 14 from seeing maternity or pediatric patients. Only parents, grandparents and birthing coaches were being allowed to the birthing center and pediatrics.
However, all of the institutions urged that visitors us common sense.
“Any person who is experiencing fever, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, rash, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting should refrain from visiting,” a press release from Cobleskill Regional read.
Bassett asked that “anyone with signs of illness not visit patients in the hospital.”