The season's first confirmed cases of influenza were reported this week to the state health department, triggering renewed warnings for the elderly and people with chronic diseases to get immunized against the disease.
Dr. Timothy Cote, a health department epidemiologist, said yesterday that it was too early to predict whether this flu season would be as severe as last year's, when schools and nursing homes across the state reported wide outbreaks.
The good news, he said, was that flu specimens so far had been the "B/Yamagata" strain -- a type specifically targeted by the influenza vaccine that is in distribution this year. The vaccine is also recommended for health-care workers.
"We know it's here; we know that it's caused at least one nursing home outbreak and maybe several. And we know it's widespread throughout the state," Dr. Cote said, although the number of cases is unknown.
Influenza is characterized by fever, malaise, cough and muscleaches that generally last three days to two weeks. Children should not be given aspirin for flu symptoms because such treatment has been linked to Reyes syndrome, a severe HTC pediatric disease. Instead, youngsters should be treated with acetaminophen.
Dr. Cote noted that another vaccine was available to protect people against pneumococcal pneumonia, which can be a severe complication of influenza. He said all people over 65 and those with chronic diseases should get the pneumococcal vaccine, which is effective for at least five years.
The flu vaccine, on the other hand, needs to be given every year.