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Local health officials urging people to take precautionary measures following two flu-related deaths in nearby Syracuse

By GARY LIBERATORE

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - We have been hearing about flu-related deaths in other states across the country for weeks, now there are two being reported here in New York, very close to home, just to our west, in Syracuse.

Onondaga County Health Department officials say two middle-aged Syracuse area residents died within the past two weeks from flu-related complications.  Both were confirmed to have had the H1N1 virus, the same flu strain that caused a widespread outbreak across the U.S. in 2009.  Onondaga County Health officials say the two who died in Syracuse within the past two weeks also had underlying conditions which made them vulnerable.

Oneida County Health Department (OCHD) officials say they monitor the confirmed cases of the flu here in Oneida County each day of the flu season to keep a close eye on things.

OCHD Supervising Public Health Nurse Linda Kokoszki says the deaths in Syracuse should serve as a wake-up call for everyone here in our area, "You know, whenever you hear about deaths, any kind of deaths from illness that can be preventable, the first thing is sadness that comes over you, and the second thing, let's get the word out so we can prevent that in our own county."

Kokoszki says fortunately we have had no flu-related deaths here in Oneida County and the actual number of confirmed cases of the influenza virus is actually way down at this point in the season as compared to this time last year.

She says there have been 215 confirmed cases in Oneida County this season so far, as compared to 854 cases at this time last year, and many of the confirmed cases are H1N1 cases, "So the numbers are not what they were last year, but again we have to pay attention to the severity of those strains and so there may be less out there, but maybe a little bit more severe than it was last year."

Back in 2009, the elderly population was hit hard by H1N1.  Kokoszki says this year it's more middle-aged people who are coming down with that strain of the flu.

Kokoszki says the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta is reporting that the reason for this season's H1N1 strain not effecting the elderly as much, "Is because the elderly may have gotten some immunity from having the flu in years past that had strains that are similar to this one."

St. Elizabeth Medical Center Director of Infection Prevention Heidi Coluzza says SEMC has seen about 100 of the 215 confirmed flu cases in Oneida County, "In the last few weeks we have seen a real increase in the number of positive flu cases, the number of people coming to our Emergency Room seeking treatment.  About 5 percent have needed to be hospitalized, so those people are pretty severe.  We're trying to keep people out of the hospital if we can help it, but individuals that have chronic illnesses tend to be a lot sicker when they come down with the flu."

Coluzza says SEMC is also urging everyone who can get the flu shot to get it, but she adds that some of the people here in Oneida County who were confirmed to have the H1N1 strain this season, actually did get this season's flu shot. which is supposed to inoculate against the H1N1 virus, "But I can say that those that have been vaccinated who are getting sick tend to be much less sick than those that who have not.  It doesn't last as long, they're not suffering as much."

SEMC has what they call a Respiratory Isolation Station near each hospital entrance.  It's a spot where visitors can clean their hands with antibacterial gel and grab a mask to put over their  mouths.

Coluzza says she encourages visitors to the hospital to put on a mask and not to worry about looking different.  She says wearing a mask definitely will help prevent the flu from spreading, "Influenza is transmitted through droplets.  When an individual coughs or sneezes, there's a potential that those droplets can linger in the air and other individuals can breath in those droplets."

Both Coluzza and Kokoszki say it's important for everyone to remember to practice prevention tips.  Coluzza says "Wash your hands, cough in your elbow, avoid people who are sick, stay home if you are sick, and try and stay healthy by exercising and eating right."

Finally, if you start to the feel the symptoms of the flu, Kokoszki says it's best to be seen by a doctor as soon as possible.  She described the symptoms as follows, "High fever, a lot of muscle aches, sometimes nausea and diarrhea, but not often, but most of the time upper respiratory issues and a lot of severe muscle aches.  It seems to hit rather rapidly."

Kokoszki says often times, if you get to a physician early, you can get a prescription for an antiviral drug such as Tami flu which attacks the flu virus and stops it from spreading, so you won't get as sick.

They are a variety of places that you can get a flu shot, such as local pharmacies and doctor's offices, and in addition, the Oneida County Health Department Utica Office, on Elizabeth Street, administers the shots on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:00 to 3:30 p.m.

The office in Rome on West Dominick Street also administers the vaccine on Tuesdays from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.

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