OSWEGO — The number of lab-confirmed cases of influenza is rising sharply in Oswego County and across New York State and officials are urging individuals to get vaccinated and use precautionary measures to protect against the virus.
Statewide lab-confirmed flu cases have risen more than 70 percent compared with the previous week, according to the most recent report from the state Department of Health (DOH). The DOH is calling influenza activity “widespread” across the state with flu cases reported in fifty-eight counties and more than 5,400 confirmed cases so far this season.
Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said the number of lab-confirmed flu cases has increased in Oswego County in recent weeks, with 13 new cases the week ending Dec. 15 and another 11 in the week ending Dec. 22.
County health officials said as of Friday afternoon, there had been 33 new cases in the week ending Saturday. Prior to Dec. 23 there were just 47 total cases in Oswego County this flu season.
Huang said it’s “very typical” for the number of reports flu cases to be growing this time of year and noted cases in Oswego County appear to be rising more quickly than other counties in New York.
“Usually we’ll enter peak in January, February, or sometimes March — so we’re moving toward the peak,” Huang said. “This is just the season. With the temperature going down it’s not unusual for flu cases to pick up when we enter the winter season. People just need to be aware of the increased cases.”
Reported instances of influenza are trending in similar fashion to the previous two flu seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18. Last season there were nearly 130,000 flu cases, which started to spike dramatically in late December and peaked in lake February. There were 65,000, or roughly half as many, total flu cases in 2016-17, when the number of lab-reported instances of influenza rose steadily starting from mid-December to a mid-February peak.
The 2015-16 flu season brought less than 50,000 lab-confirmed cases of influenza and started later than recent years, with an early February spike in cases and a mid-March peak.
Local and state officials are urging individuals to receive a flu shot as soon as possible to protect against the virus. Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged all New Yorkers six months of age or older to get vaccinated.
“With an increased in flue cases in every corner of this state, I want to remind New Yorkers who have not been vaccinated against the flu that it is not too later to take this critical action,” Cuomo said Friday. “Flu season is in full-swing, and as the number of cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, we must do everything we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
Health officials say it’s still not too late to get the flu vaccine, and Huang pointed out the county Health Department operates a walk-in clinic in which individuals can receive the vaccine.
“If some residents are still not vaccinated I encourage them to go get vaccinated, especially some people, who are seniors or have chronic disease, need to get shots and better protect themselves,” Huang said. “We’re still running the clinic and it’s still walk-in. You don’t need an appointment.”
County Legislator Jim Karasek, R-Granby, who chairs the county Health Committee, said the county has funded the walk-in flu clinic for several years now, noting the program has been “very successful” this year and officials recently approved more funding to purchase vaccines.
“We always encourage people to get the vaccine and there’s still time to do that,” he said. “We’ve provided whatever funding necessary to make sure people in this county are protected.”
Flu shots are available at the Nick Sterio Public Health Clinic — located at 70 Bunner St. in Oswego — Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The Oswego County Health Department is, however, closed New Year’s Day.
The influenza vaccine costs $41 for adults and children and $70 for individuals 65 and older who request the high-dose flu vaccine. The county Health Department accepts cash or checks for payment. Huang said all patients should bring their insurance benefits cards, but noted no one would be turned away due to inability to pay.
“Finances should not be a barrier and if people can’t afford to pay I still encourage them to come,” Huang said.
For other vaccinations, the county holds immunization clinics every Tuesday, from 12:30 p.m. 3:30 p.m. at the Nick Sterio Public Health Clinic. Clinics are also held the third Tuesday of each month from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the H. Douglas Barclay Courthouse in Pulaski by appointment.
Officials say the flu vaccine is the best way to protect against the influenza virus, but Huang said individuals should also cover their mouth and nose when sneezing and diligent hand washing.
“The other really important thing is if you feel uncomfortable, and it looks like the flu is hitting you, don’t go to work, don’t go to school — stay home,” Huang said. “Keep the virus with you. Don’t spread it.”
So far this flu season, young people have been hit the hardest, with 2,621 cases reported in individuals below the age of 18.
Though younger individuals have been more likely to contract the influenza virus, elderly individuals are much more likely to require hospitalization to treat the affliction. Nearly 800 of the roughly 1,300 patients hospitalized with lab-confirmed influenza have been older than 50, with more than 500 above the age of 65.
New York City and the surrounding area have the highest instances of influenza, with more than 12 cases per 100,000 people. The central and western New York regions both have much lower rates, with each below five cases per 100,000.