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Date Updated: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

WMCHealth Urges Community to Take Caution and Get Vaccinated This Flu Season

As serious complications can arise from the flu – especially among the young and elderly – flu vaccines are critical for people of all ages

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VALHALLA, N.Y. (November 13, 2019) – As we enter flu season, which typically commences in October and can last until May, the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) urges everyone in the community to get vaccinated. The flu vaccine is the only viable safeguard against the flu and can help protect against life-threatening complications that can arise from contracting the virus.

Young people, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions are most at risk for the flu and for contracting other diseases once their immune systems have been compromised. However, fifty percent of the children who die due to influenza each year were previously healthy kids with no specific risk factors for severe disease, according to Pediatrics, the official journal of the Academy of Pediatrics. Among healthy children, there is no way to predict who will suffer very severe disease and even death.

“Influenza can cause painful headaches, sore throat, congestion, body aches and lack of energy, and in some cases, it can lead to life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia, respiratory failure or sepsis, among others,” said Sheila Nolan, MD, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. “The best and most effective defense against contracting the flu and these serious complications is receiving your annual flu shot before the onset of the season.”

When Influenza Turns Life-Threatening

In 2018, 13-year-old Rebecca Berak, of Poughkeepsie, tested positive for influenza and within hours of her diagnosis her fever spiked to 106-degrees. Her influenza led to necrotizing pneumonia, throwing her body into sudden shock, acute respiratory failure and kidney failure. With uncertainty about whether she would survive, Rebecca spent weeks on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma in Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), and with the expert care of infectious disease specialists and pediatric intensivists, Rebecca pulled through, going home after six weeks in the PICU and 10 weeks in rehabilitation. She is doing well today.

Rebecca’s near-death experience emphasizes the importance of getting vaccinated as soon as possible, but for those who delay, it is still beneficial to receive the flu vaccine once flu season has begun. It is best to check with your doctor if you are not sure whether you should receive the vaccine, but mild illness is not typically a reason to delay getting your annual flu vaccine. The vaccine takes about two weeks to become fully effective.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2018-2019 flu season had a "moderate severity." The season ran from October 2018 to May 2019, with activity increasing in November and peaking mid-February. It's 21-week duration made it the longest flu season in 10 years.

Getting the flu vaccine is still a good idea even after flu season has begun. Check with your primary care provider, local pharmacy, workplace or community center for vaccine availability.

If you or a loved one are experiencing flu-like symptoms, call 914.592.2400 (adults) or 914.493.8333 (children) to make an appointment with a WMCHealth provider.