Surge in state's flu cases may be easing
Published 7:49 am, Sunday, January 20, 2013
The number of flu cases in the state continues to climb, but an epidemiologist with the Department of Public Health said the numbers could start dropping soon.
So far this season, there have been 2,456 laboratory-confirmed reports of influenza and 467 influenza-related hospitalizations. Compare that to last year, when there was a total of 1,083 confirmed cases and 270 hospitalizations for the entire season.
But Lynn Sosa, deputy epidemiologist for the state health agency, said there has been a recent decline in the number of state residents admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. Often, she said, a dip in pneumonia cases means flu activity is on the verge of slowing, but that's not always the case.
"We have to see what happens over the next couple of weeks before we know for sure," she said.
In the meantime, many area hospitals said they continue to be busy with flu patients, and area pharmacies and health departments are struggling to keep up with the demand for flu shots.
At St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, about 8 to 9 percent of emergency room business is flu-related, said Dr. Frank Scifo, medical director for St. Vincent's urgent care. "We're still seeing a large uptick in activity," he said.
At Yale-New Haven, associate director of hospital epidemiology Dr. Louise Dembry said this flu season isn't all that unusual -- it's just that last season was particularly mild.
"Every flu year is different," she said. "This isn't something we've never experienced before. But we sort of get lulled into a sense of complacency by (past) seasons where you see flu, but not at these levels."
The good news, Scifo said, is that this year's vaccine seems to be a good match for the strains of flu the hospital is seeing.
And it's still not too late to get a flu shot -- if you can find a place that hasn't run out of vaccine.
Though many pharmacies, health departments and other providers have vaccine, not everyone does. Several Stop & Shop stores reached Friday reported being out of the vaccine or having a limited supply.
The Stop & Shop on King's Highway in Fairfield was out of vaccine, and the person answering the phone at the pharmacy didn't expect a new shipment until next week. At the Shelton store on Bridgeport Avenue, the pharmacy was only vaccinating those 65 and older. Those that reported having the vaccine include the stores on East Main Street in Stratford and Main Street in Bridgeport.
Many Walgreens stores also reported having vaccine, including the stores at 4083 Main St., 960 North Ave., and 1000 Park Ave. in Bridgeport. The Walgreens on Villa Avenue in Fairfield, Barnum Avenue in Stratford and Bridgeport Avenue in Shelton all had the vaccine as well.
Elsewhere, town and city health departments also report working hard to meet a rising demand for flu shots. In Stratford, the town's assistant health director Greta Roberts Broneill said the department is organizing several clinics a week to meet the need for flu shots. However, Broneill said the department had enough vaccine supply to keep up with the demand.
Fairfield's health department has struggled a little more, said director Sands Cleary. On Tuesday, the department had a flu clinic and went through all of its vaccine supply -- about 180 doses -- in an hour. The town has since received a limited amount of vaccine and will host a clinic on Wednesday.
Other cities and towns receiving a lot of requests for flu vaccine include Bridgeport, which spokeswoman Elaine Ficarra said experienced a spike in vaccine requests. She said 73 shots were administered this week.
Sosa said those who haven't gotten a flu shot should seek one out, even if it means making a few phone calls or waiting in a long line. "People need to be persistent in looking for it," she said.