The first two weeks of January have brought a big spike in flu cases here.

Laurie Brentlinger, director of infection control and prevention for the Western Connecticut Health Network, told The Bulletin on Tuesday the network’s member labs and hospitals saw three times as many positive cases of flu in the first two weeks of January as they had seen in all of December. The network includes Norwalk Hospital, Danbury Hospital, and New Milford Hospital.

“We are seeing a greater admission rate and higher volume in the emergency departments,” she said. “It’s very unusual to see this distinct ramp-up in a two-week time frame.”

The severity of the illness was brought home with the death of a New Canaan boy earlier this week. The fourth grader had gone to New York state with his travel hockey team over the weekend when he became ill and was taken to the emergency room at Buffalo Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Health officials said that while he was at the hospital the boy was diagnosed with influenza B.

The boy died on Jan. 14. The cause of the death was flu complicated by pneumonia followed by sepsis, according to information released by a New York state medical examiner.

Twenty children have died from flu across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). No deaths for any age group have been reported through the Western Connecticut Health Network, Brentlinger said.

Although flu season is well underway, she advised people who have not yet been immunized to get a flu shot. It is too soon to tell if flu season is peaking here, but in the Southern Hemisphere, Brentlinger said, it was a long season.

“The very old and the very young are at greater risk of complication from flu,” Brentlinger said. Prevention and minimizing the effects of flu are the goals of vaccination. Should someone come down with the flu, Tamiflu, which is an antiviral drug, will help shorten the duration and lessen the intensity of flu, but it must be started within 48 hours of symptoms.

Locally, flu shots are still available at some pharmacies. A check around town showed Lang’s Pharmacy is still offering flu shots. CVS is offering them to those 18 and older. The pharmacy at Stop & Shop is out of vaccine but trying to get more.

Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County will offer a new series of flu clinics on Wednesday afternoons from 3:30 to 5, from Jan. 24 through Feb. 7, at its offices in iPark, 761 Main Avenue in Norwalk. No appointment is necessary. Those who cannot make it on those days may call 203-834-6341 to make an appointment for a different time. These shots are for people who have not already received the vaccine.

“We gave about 1,200 shots this year,” Katherine Lasberg told The Bulletin. She is the community health coordinator for Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County. “It’s a little bit more than we’ve done in the past. The percentage of high-dose [vaccine] was significantly more than in previous years,” she added, speculating it may be due to more people hearing about it. “A lot of clients say their doctors recommend getting the high dose.”

Last fall, nurses from the agency held several flu clinics at their offices and around town. The high-dose vaccine they administered was formulated to protect against the H1N1 (Michigan), the H3N2 (Hong Kong), and the B virus known as Brisbane. This was available to people 65 and older. It offered a greater antigen concentration.

A quadrivalent vaccine that was given to people from 6 months up to age 65 protected against those strains as well as a B virus known as Phuket.

“It’s still not too late, and people should get the vaccine,” Lasberg said. “We may continue with the flu clinics if there’s a lot of demand. When we exhaust the supply, that will be it.”

Statewide

Flu activity is labeled “widespread” across the state, with a total of 1,015 confirmed cases this season through Jan. 6, according to the state Department of Public Health, which noted in its weekly flu update that flu activity has rapidly increased during the last few weeks. Fairfield County has the second-highest number of confirmed cases:

  • Hartford — 367
  • Fairfield — 256
  • New Haven — 229
  • New London — 58
  • Tolland — 38
  • Middlesex — 31
  • Litchfield — 23
  • Windham —13

Of the confirmed cases, 109 were Type A (H3N2), nine were Type A (2009 H1N1), 164 were influenza B viruses, and three were unknown. There were an additional 730 cases labeled an unspecified subtype of Type A. This correlates with information from the CDC that advised last month of increased influenza A (H3N2) activity.

There have been a number of media reports questioning the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine. According to the CDC, a high predominance of the H3N2 virus in the past  correlated with more hospitalizations and deaths in persons age 65 years and older and young children compared to other age groups. It acknowledged that influenza vaccine effectiveness in general has been lower against H3N2 viruses than against H1N1 or B viruses. Last season, the vaccine’s effectiveness against H3N2 viruses was about 32% in the United States. The CDC expects that effectiveness to be about the same this year. Vaccine effectiveness against H1N1 or B viruses is higher.

Should you get the flu, all experts advise staying home and keeping sick children at home.

“Other than going to see the doctor, if you have the flu, you should be staying home,” Brentlinger said. “It’s contagious. You could be putting yourself and others at risk.”

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