An Early, Cover Your Mouth, Flu Season

For all of you New Yorkers stuck at home sniffling, coughing and cowering under the bedclothes with flu (or as the city’s health department prefers to put it, flu-like illness), the city has a graph to make you feel less all alone.

It shows a bright red line shooting up like a rocket from November through December. This represents the rate of flu-like illness – though not necessarily confirmed flu cases — being reported to New York City’s syndromic surveillance system by 49 hospital emergency rooms and other “sentinel providers.”

The turbocharged red line has overshot the green, blue and purple lines that represent the flu-like illness rate from the three previous years, beginning in 2009. (The dotted line shows what the rate was predicted to be based on the rate for the past three years.) Those three years were milder seasons, confirms Jean Weinberg, a city health department spokeswoman, especially last year, and they do not compare with “our first wave of pandemic in 2009, which was higher,” a reference to the swine flu of that year.

As federal authorities have reported, the United States is experiencing the earliest flu season since 2003.

If it is any comfort, Ms. Weinberg said, the flu is not worse in New York City than in other parts of the country. “This is not a season that is out of the ordinary,” she said, “though H3 seasons (which the U.S. is having now) tend to be worse than H1 seasons.” She meant that the current flu was mostly caused by H3N2 viruses rather than H1N1.

The health department recommends vaccinations for anyone 6 months and older and offers a neat vaccine finder on its Web site.

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