Flu outbreak overwhelms Long Beach


This year’s flu season has hit a record high in Long Beach and on Long Island, as doctors have reported seeing a spike in the number of patients being diagnosed with influenza.

“The cases [in the Long Beach Emergency Department] were sporadic in November and December, and have rapidly peaked in January,” said Dr. Joshua Kugler, chairman of South Nassau Communities Hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine.

In New York, the number of laboratory-confirmed influenza cases rose by 37 percent between the last week of December and the first week of January, according to the state Department of Health. In the same duration, the number of influenza related hospitalizations rose by 40 percent.

While he could not immediately provide specific numbers, Kugler said that most of the cases were identified as Flu Type A, or the H3N2 strain. But the dangerous cases that have been recorded this season are less related to specific strains and more related to the fact that the flu leads to deadly bacterial infections such as pneumonia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 37 children in the United States have died this flu season.

“We have seen hundreds of cases thus far and at all ages and at all different stages of the flu — early, mid-illness and late in the illness,” Kugler said.

Long Beach Fire Commissioner Scott Kemins also said he’s seen an uptick in emergency medical calls relating to the illness.

“People are overburdening emergency rooms with the flu,” he said. “The emergency rooms are overcrowded with patients.”

He added that local hospitals, including South Nassau, have been forced to divert patients to alternate facilities because of the overcrowding and long wait times in the emergency departments.

“It is causing longer wait times at hospitals for both patients as well as ambulance crews,” Kemins said.

East Rockaway resident Dan Caracciolo said there was a seven-hour wait at South Nassau’s emergency room in Oceanside last week due to the amount of influenza and pneumonia cases coming in.

At South Nassau’s emergency department in Long Beach — a temporary facility that opened in 2015 after Hurricane Sandy shuttered the Long Beach Medical Center — Kugler said there has not been any significant increase in wait time over previous years.

“The Long Beach Emergency Department has done a remarkable job at handling the increased surge of patients during this wintertime illness,” Kugler said.

Additionally, only those patients who need admission to the hospital are being transferred from the Long Beach facility to the Oceanside campus, he said.

Doctors have been administering Tamiflu to their patients, an antiviral medication that attacks the flu virus and prevents it from spreading.

“Many of the local pharmacies are struggling to keep up with the Tamiflu and have contacted us of their periodic shortages in Long Beach,” Kugler said. “So far there have not been any absolute out-of-stock issues in Long Beach, as a backup pharmacy will be able to fill when one runs out.”

Dr. Matt Cohen, a Long Beach pediatrician, also said there is a shortage of Tamiflu, but added that it’s still available on an intermittent basis at different pharmacies.

He added that despite recommendations to use Tamiflu in the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, it could be used at any point in the course of the illness if the benefits to the patient outweigh any side effects.

Victor Politi, the president and chief executive officer of Nassau University Medical Center, explained that an increasing number of patients have been seeking medical attention for upper respiratory virus, sinus infection, fevers and chills, only to be diagnosed with the flu.

“We are concerned about [this] increase,” Politi said, adding that those who wait too long to seek treatment risk developing more severe maladies such as secondary bacterial infections and pneumonia.

On a national level, during the first week of January there were 22.7 influenza-related hospitalizations for every 100,000 people, according to the CDC. Two weeks prior, there were 8.7 hospitalizations for every 100,000 people.

The CDC also reported that influenza was widespread throughout 49 states during the first week of January, as compared to 36 states two weeks prior.