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First flu numbers: seven hospitalized in Monroe County

The Monroe County public health department has released its first report on this year’s flu season, showing seven people have been hospitalized with the virus locally. And yesterday, the New York state health department has declared influenza to be “prevalent” in the state.

The countyreport, which tracks flu cases from Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, shows a spike in the second week of December, with nearly 20 recorded cases. Still, that’s a far cry from the height of last year’s flu season, when nearly 800 cases were recorded over one week in February.

Paul Graman, a professor of medicine and hospital epidemiologist at Strong Memorial Hospital, said the data don’t show any surprises yet.

“So far this is looking like a pretty typical flu season,” Graman said. “We’re beginning to see increased activity around the state and locally, but it has not reached very high levels, which we usually do not experience until January and into February.”

Graman and other infectious disease specialists cautioned that it’s too early to read much into the county’s data.

“We have only just started seeing flu circulate, so it’s very small numbers,” said Maryrose Laguio-Vila, an infectious disease physician at Rochester General Hospital.

Last year’s flu season wasone of the worst in recent memory, with more confirmed cases of the disease than the previous two seasons combined.

Laguio-Vila said there’s one small sign that this year’s flu season might not be as bad. She said Australia’s flu season, which happens during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter and the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, can provide some clues for what’s to come in North America – and “so far, the reports have been that Australia’s flu season was not as bad as last year,” she said.

Both Graman and Laguio-Vila stressed that it is not too late to get vaccinated against the flu.

The small amount of data available from this year’s season means “we don’t have a good feel yet for how effective the vaccine will be” against the particular flu strains that emerge this year, Laguio-Vila said, but the two physicians both said any flu vaccine reduces the odds of people getting the disease and transmitting it to others. It’s also likely to reduce the severity of the symptoms if people do come down with the flu, they said.

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
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