MAYVILLE - Nearly nine times more confirmed cases of influenza are reported locally so far than all reported cases during the 2011-2012 flu season, according to the Chautauqua County Commissioner of Human Services, Christine Schuyler who believes this flu season is proving to be one of the most severe in local experience.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, Schuyler's office counted 283 flu cases in the county compared to just 32 confirmed cases during the previous season. In comparison, 2010-11 was a more typical season with 337 cases reported, according to the commissioner.
"We know that 283 number is very low because only laboratory confirmed cases are reported to local health departments," said Schuyler. "Many health care providers do influenza rapid testing in their practices and are not obligated to report those cases to local or state health departments and from what we're hearing from local providers, this flu season is proving to be one of the most severe we've seen," she added.
This season's epidemic is not the result of a single strain of virus and the positive development to date is that the current vaccine matches the known culprits quite well. So far this season, most (91 percent) of the influenza viruses that have been analyzed at Centers for Disease Control are like the viruses included in the 2012-2013 influenza vaccine, according to a report by the NYS Dept. of Health.
This newspaper reached Dr. William J. Bean Phd, a noted virologist who resides in suburban Philadelphia and who studies both the biology and history of influenza.
So far this flu season the predominant strain is Influenza A, H3N2, Dr. Bean said. It along with Influenza A, H1N1 and Influenza B which has no sub-types are accounted for in the current vaccine. H3N2 is avian in origin and has been around since at least 1968 when it was known as the "Hong Kong" flu. H1N1 is at least almost a century old, comes from swine, and is infamous as the type which caused the "Spainish" flu pandemic which killed tens of millions at the end of World War 1.
While the H1N1 hasn't appeared much in tests so far, Bean believes it could yet play a substantial part in the present outbreak.
"It's always worrisome when a virus comes from pigs," he explained.
However, since this strain was the cause of much of the flu in 2009 and is contained in the vaccine many of us probably have at least some immunity, Bean believes.
"It still has a lot of time," Bean replied when asked about the future of the current outbreak. He expects the course of this flu to not subside until early spring.
Bean is encouraged by statistics showing none of the current viruses to be drug resistant. That means that if administered "very early," anti-viral drugs "likely will reduce the severity and length of the illness," Bean said.
Hospitalization of flu sufferers statewide rose sharply in the first week of 2013 when the number of those presenting at the emergency room or already in a hospital for another problem and subsequently diagnosed with influenza rose fifty-five per cent, according to surveillance tables issued by the state health department.
Earlier this week, a Public Health Emergency for all of New York State was declared in response to this year's flu outbreak. Chautauqua County's experience mirrors the state-wide numbers which were reported at "over 19,000" confirmed thus far compared to just 4,404 cases last season.
Just as this winter's large numbers are not typical, so also were last year's numbers unusually low. Researchers have noted the winter of 2011-2012 began late and was notably mild.