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Bad influenza outbreak continues to spread throughout New York

Some rights reserved by Samantha Celera

A bad flu virus continues to spread through the community, as flu cases in Onondaga County are up five-fold from this time last year.

The flu is coming early and often for much of the United States, according to health officials, and central New York has not been spared.

The Onondaga County Health Department has confirmed 263 cases of the flu for the week ending Jan. 3. That’s a big increase from the 58 cases over the same week last year. Overall, the county has diagnosed 474 cases since flu season began in October.

State wide, health officials report a 14 percent increase in flu cases last week. Hospital admissions also increased by double digits. Most flu cases go un-diagnosed though.

In Oneida County, where there were 160 cases for the same week, medical centers have struggled to keep up with the influx of flu cases in their hospitals. 

"Over the past week, our numbers have increased dramatically," said Heather Bernard, director of infection prevention for St. Elizabeth Medical Center and Faxton St. Luke’s in Utica.

"It seems as though the patients may be sicker than they have in the past," she said.

The high number of cases prompted the hospitals to suspend visiting rights for younger people. And St. Elizabeth’s closed a floor of the hospital for a week after an outbreak of flu among patients and staff.

"We’re trying to limit the number of people we allow to come into the hospital who can potentially spread it to our more immuno-compromised patients with underlying conditions," she said.

Flu symptoms include fever, aches and pains, cough and sore throat. It hits the elderly, very young and those with underlying medical problems the hardest. Bernard says people that don’t fall under those categories should avoid the emergency room and seek care from their regular doctor.

"We’ve had a high volume of patients in our emergency room and it’s causing backlogs there," she said. "So if we can prevent that and have patients attempt to contact their primary care providers, then our emergency room can be utilized for more sick patients."

At least two elderly people have died of the flu in Onondaga County, heath officials there said. And the state health department reports one pediatric death caused by the flu this year.

Health officials are still urging all people to be vaccinated against the virus, even though this year's vaccine has limited impact on the virus strain causing the outbreak. You can find a clinic to get a flu shot from the health department's website.