Most years, the flu does not rear its ugly head until after Christmas, said a local pediatrician.
This year, Dr. Marco Ferretti, a doctor at East Bay Pediatric, said he saw the first cases of the flu hit in Barrington before Thanksgiving.
“It has been an earlier than usual flu season, and we’re seeing more cases than on average,” he said.
“I have only ever see flu hit before Christmas once before. That was about 15 years ago. … We got an aggressive strain that hit early.”
The rest of the state and across the country has experienced a severe flu season this year. According to a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Health, the state has seen a significant spike in cases of people admitted to area hospitals for the flu as well as the number of people turning out to emergency rooms and doctors’ offices displaying flu-like symptoms.
Dara Chadwick said Rhode Island had 90 hospital admissions for the flu during last year’s season — flu season runs from October through May.
“We’re at 380 right now,” Ms. Chadwick said on Jan. 10.
On Dec. 5, Dr. Michael Fine, the director of the state’s health department, declared the flu widespread in Rhode Island.
Since Dec. 10, 5,387 people have shown up at ERs and doctors’ offices complaining of flu-like symptoms. That’s an average of about 180 new cases per day.
“I can’t predict what will happen next, but we’re working on getting out the message that it’s not too late to get immunized,” Ms. Chadwick said.
Dr. Ferretti, who echoed the importance of immunizations, said he has witnessed a “slow down” recently in the number of flu cases locally. He said the drop-off could be related to the recent holiday vacation for school children. Dr. Ferretti said he would be watching closely at what happens now that boys and girls have returned to school.
“We’ll see. Typically, whenever there’s a vacation week things quiet down a bit and then pick back up,” he said.
The local pediatrician said there are two strains of the flu prevalent this season, and that all people who can should be immunized.
“The kids under 1 or 2 are at a greater risk for having complications due to the flu … young children. Kids with asthma, any chronic disease. Over the years we’ve seen kids who were very healthy who have not handled the flu well. Even healthy children with no underlying problems can have outcomes that are not good,” Dr. Ferretti said.
The pediatrician said children who have been immunized for the flu will sometimes still contract it, although they stand to experience milder symptoms for a shorter period of time than a child who has not been vaccinated.
“Fever, runny nose, cough, you get tired, body aches, sore throat, head aches,” he said, while describing flu symptoms.
“If you don’t have the body aches, you’re a lot less likely to have the flu.”
He again urged people to get the flu vaccine if they have not do so already.
“People don’t understand disease. Disease does bad things to people. Whatever it is. The flu causes complications, can cause pneumonia, respiratory failure. It can cause death,” he said.