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The Berkshires

Flu season nearing record levels

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Albany/HV: Flu season nearing record levels
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As this season's flu virus continues its rapid spread, doctors say if you don't normally opt for the flu shot, this year should be different. YNN's John Wagner reports.

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. -- "By far, this is the worst flu season I've seen in quite some time and maybe the worst ever," said Dr. Michael Caldwell, in his 19th year as the Dutchess County Health Commissioner.

If you haven't gotten your flu shot yet, you may want to join Governor Andrew Cuomo, with doctors stressing it's not too late to be protected.

"Didn't hurt at all doctor," said Cuomo after getting vaccinated on Thursday.

Hospitals and emergency rooms across the state have flooded to near capacity levels with sore throats, headaches and fevers all around. New York has had more than 19,000 reported flu cases this season, compared to just 4,400 a year ago. And this season isn't letting up yet.

"Recognizing the symptoms early is very important, because once you have the flu, the vaccination won't help you," explained Dr. J. Keith Festa, chief medical officer at St. Francis Hospital. "Then you need to get to your doctor very quickly and get the antiviral medications that are out there."

"The good news is that this flu vaccine will absolutely protect you from the flu that's circulating in the community. There is a match," said Dr. Caldwell.

The Dutchess County health commissioner says for smokers, quitting smoking would do more to prevent influenza than by getting a flu shot, although, in addition, he recommends they be vaccinated.

"If you think you may have had the flu already, still get the flu shot because it protects you against three different strains," said Dr. Caldwell.

The flu vaccine is available at almost every corner pharmacy, drugstore and even some supermarkets. Even if it doesn't prevent the 10 to 14 day long illness, the symptoms should be somewhat dulled. Doctors say kids five years and younger and seniors should really give the shot a second thought.

"The worst case scenario [of influenza] is pneumonia and pneumonia, depending on the risk of the patient, can result in death," said Dr. Festa.

And besides the shot, doctors also prescribe a dose of common sense.

"Age old," continued Dr. Festa, "but it works all the time: Excellent hand washing."

There are other steps you can take to protect yourself and others from the flu, besides washing your hands: Cover your cough, up your intake of water and vitamins too, and take antiviral drugs if your doctor recommends them.

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