Local doctors report increased cases of flu, which peaked early

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Dr. Jennifer Rich of Peconic Pediatrics examines 15-month-old Ava Curry of Riverhead before administering a second dose of the flu vaccine Jan. 11. Toddlers get the vaccine in two doses six weeks apart.

Local hospitals and doctors are seeing a jump in flu cases as reports from across the North Fork and Suffolk County show this year’s influenza season started earlier and is hitting harder than last year’s, medical professionals said.

According to the latest Centers for Disease Control data, 49 of the nation’s 54 jurisdictions are reporting regional or widespread flu activity. Roughly 28,000 cases of various flu strains have been reported since the end of September.

This year’s flu season peaked unusually early, in late December. It normally reaches its highest numbers in January and February.

Dr. Michael Catapano of the Stat Health clinic in Cutchogue, said he sees no drop in local flu cases since the peak.

“We’re seeing a lot more flu than we’ve seen in past few years I can remember,” he said.

Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead has seen more cases — in both positive diagnoses and in pure volume of flu-like symptoms — than last year, hospital officials said. The medical center could not provide exact statistics on this year’s number of cases. An official at Eastern Long Island Hospital also reported higher than usual numbers this year.

Though this year’s predominant strain doesn’t appear to be any more deadly than those of previous years, Dr. Catapano said the flu packs a punch.

“You have to remember the flu can kill you,” he said. “30,000 people die of the flu every year. It’s not a cold; it’s a very serious illness.”

People with flu should stay at home and rest, drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration and control the fever, medical professionals said.

The best defense against the flu is a flu shot, Dr. Catapano said, adding that his clinic ran out of flu serum in the fall. “It’s not too late to get one but it’s tough to find one,” Dr. Catapano said. “They’re very cheap and it’s better than getting sick.”

Having contracted the flu twice as a younger man, Dr. Catapano said he knows full well the value of the flu shot.

“I finally learned,” he said.

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