The flu is striking with vengeance this season, and it's becoming increasingly more difficult to find flu shots in Westhampton and Hampton Bays.
The New York State Department of Health reports the flu is widespread and doctors and clinics that provide statistics to the state report patient visits for influenza-like illnesses was 6.82 percent, which is above the regional baseline of 2 percent.
With that news, the flu vaccine is in scant supply at pharmacies and doctors offices and it could be close to a week before they restock — if ever.
A pharmacist at Rite Aid in Hampton Bays said Friday morning that the store has enough to get through the day, and is trying to secure more shots. And in Westhampton Beach, a Rite Aid pharmacist said they are all out of flu shots and are not sure when more they will come in.
Flu shots are $29.99 at Rite Aids — or less with insurance — and available on a walk-in basis while in stock.
Southampton Pediatrics in Hampton Bays report that they still have some shots available for patients with private insurance; however, they don't have a stock of shots for those on Medicaid or Child Heath Plus that are supplied by the New York State Health Department.
According to Laura Lynch, practice administrator for Southampton Pediatrics, nearly 150 doses of state flu shots had to be tossed after Hurricane Sandy because their Southampton office, where the shots were stored, lost power.
The state has not sent a replenishment yet, she said.
"Our flu shots are dwindling because it is late in the season now," she said.
Already, she said patients are coming in by the droves with flu symptoms, some have been diagnosed as having the flu others haven't.
"The flu is going around like crazy and we are seeing a lot of patients. Those with concerns should, if they haven't already get the flu shot," she said, recommending that those without private insurance should contact the Suffolk County Department of Health and local pharmacies for flu shots.
Wendy Huggins, of Hampton Medical Care in Hampton Bays said it is the same story in her office.
"We are seeing more and more patients. For some reason it is really bad this year," she said.
Her office, which does take walk-in patients, has a supply of flu shots, but she said they are going fast and an order for more was just recently placed.
Southampton Hospital spokesman Marsha Kenny said patient volume is up in the emergency room.
“We have an uptick in census in the emergency department," Kenny said. "A lot of peole are coming in, some people with flu symptoms, and some people who are just really sick.”
Kenny said that when people have flu symptoms, they should go to their primary care physician right away, instead of waiting until they are very ill and heading to the emergency room.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that 18 children nationally have died of flu so far this year, with cases reported in nearly every state.
A Long Island expert on infectious diseases Thursday urged parents to get their children and themselves vaccinated now as the flu turned into an epidemic.
Dr. Sunil K. Sood said the flu season is considerably worse this year than it has been in several years. “First, it started very early this year, and second, the number of cases has dramatically increased nationwide,” he said. “Third, of the three strains, one, H-3, is associated with a higher death rate.”
This year’s flu vaccine protects against three strains, H-1 and H-3, and a third, Type B. “H-3 gives you a much worse disease,” he said.
Sood, who is director of pediatrics at Southside Hospital and an attending doctor in infectious diseases at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, emphasized the need for children to be protected. And for others to be protected from small disease carriers. “I’ve been giving really passionate speeches to parents that it is really dangerous not to have vaccinated themselves and their children,” he said. “If you haven’t immunized your child even healthy kids can die. Children are the spreaders and they pass it on to older people as well.”
Those over 65 or with compromised immune systems are among the most vulnerable.
“It’s been recommended that every child over 6 months and adults get vaccinated but only 45 percent of children got vaccinated last year," Sood said. "That’s really, really sad."
And, he said, too many health workers don’t get vaccinated either, potentially jeopardizing patients.
Sood had answers to those arguing against the vaccination. “No vaccine is perfect, but this year is a very good vaccine,” he said. “It is impossible to get flu from the shot because it uses a killed virus. And yes, you can get influenza but it won’t be as bad or you could get another virus.”
As far as the timing, Sood said it is not too late. “People say the cat is out of the bag; the answer is: 'No, go get it today.' You still have some time. It takes about a week to start developing immunity, so it’s not too late. There is no shortage this year; every doctor’s office, every supermarket, has the vaccine. etc. There’s no excuse. And we don’t know how the long the season will last.”
Patch wants to know: Have you gotten your flu shot yet? Comment below.
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