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With Flu on the Rise, Westchester Docs Recommend Vaccine

Open Door Family Medical Centers in Westchester have seen 246 flu cases so far this year.

It's the coughing. The runny nose. The fever. The "I can't get out of bed" feeling.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that high flu activity is still continuing around the country, with influenza vaccines in short supply.

Local doctors have seen a similar trend.

"It's very much like the rest of the county and the rest of the state and most other states in the country," said Dr. Daren Wu, chief medical officer of Open Door Family Medical Centers. "It's definitely much heavier, not just somewhat heavier."

So far, the four Westchester Open Door Family Medical Centers have confirmed 246 cases of the flu—116 in Ossining, 64 in Mount Kisco, 40 in Sleepy Hollow and 26 in Port Chester.

Dr. Joseph Ponticiello, the Emergency Department director at Sound Shore Medical Center in New Rochelle agreed the hospital is experiening more than just the average flu season.

"Right now, we are looking at a flu epidemic," he said.

At Open Door, Wu said doctors have conducting "rapid flu tests," a nasal swab test, and have found many are infected with Flu A or Flu B.

"Thankfully the vaccination prepared is adequately treating or preventing the majority of the cases," he said. 

While many area pharmacies have reported running out of this year's vaccine, Wu said Open Door is fully stocked—even after giving out 6,965 flu shots as of Wednesday.

However, he noted he and his colleagues have found that county pharmacies are also running out of Tamiflu, the prescription medication often suggested to alleviate flu symptoms.

"They are just plum out," Wu said.

Still, residents should visit a doctor if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms, he noted.

"The flu is actually just a buffed up virus. It's kind of like when people get the common cold; it's just a more severe version of a common cold," Wu said. "We have many people who have complications after the flu."

Complications like pneumonia, respiratory complications and dehydration can be serious. 

"Many, many people die from the flu or complications from the flu," he said. "The tragic thing is it's so preventable by the flu vaccination."

And while any flu shot may only offer 50 to 70 percent protection, Wu said he believes the more people who receive a vaccine, the better.

"It takes about two weeks for the immune system to buff it up," he said, but combined with "good old fashioned hand washing" and avoiding places with sick people, you can decrease your chances of contracting the virus.

And if you're already sick?

"Lot of hand washing, covering your mouth and coughing into the nook of your elbow," Wu advised. "Stay very well-hydrated; chicken soup still applies here."

Committing to an at-home recovery is also important to minimize the chance of spreading illness, he added.

"Don't be a hero. Please do not go to work, please do not go to school," Wu said.

If you can't get your hands on Tamiflu, he said over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers like Aleve, "cure not a thing" but can "make you feel temporarily better."

The bottom line—"It's not too late to get the flu shot," Wu said. "If you are sick, it's best to at least see a doctor who can assess how severely ill you are."

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