Mary Schiavoni rarely gets sick, but on Thursday, February 5, she had a dry cough. The following day, Schiavoni, a teaching assistant at Sag Harbor Elementary school, “started feeling like garbage,” and was plagued with congestion and fever. That evening she mustered up the strength to attend a performance of “The Wizard of Oz” at the Pierson Middle School and High School, but soon felt like leaving.
“I just thought, ‘I have to get out of here’,” said Schiavoni.
By Saturday, Schiavoni was feeling so lousy her husband Ted drove her to Dr. Mark Kot in Southampton. After completing a swab test, Dr. Kot confirmed that Schiavoni had a bad case of influenza. Oddly enough, Schiavoni had visited Dr. Kot weeks before to get a flu shot.
“After Dr. Kot gave me the test, he told me I was the third person who had had a flu shot, but later got the flu,” said Schiavoni.
Dr. Kot put Schiavoni on a battery of medications, including Tamiflu, the classic influenza medicine prescribed in the first 48 hours of initial symptoms, and several antibiotics.
Schiavoni spent the next week holed up in her bedroom, weak with fatigue. On the rare occasions that she left her bed and moved around the house, she would start sweating and feel ill in a matter of minutes. It took nearly a week for Schiavoni to recuperate, and even now, she still has a cough.
Although Schiavoni isn’t certain where she contracted the flu, it is likely that she was exposed to it at the school. According to Pierson nurse Barbara Schmitz, a record number of schoolchildren have confirmed cases of influenza, or reported experiencing flu-like symptoms. In the past month and a half, said Schmitz, nearly eight middleschoolers where diagnosed with the flu by their doctors, and scores of children also have bronchitis and pneumonia.
“I think [the number of sick students] is definitely up from last year. We sent a lot of kids home. I haven’t seen so many sick students ever,” said Schmitz, who added that the elementary school was experiencing a similar situation.
Local physicians have also taken note of this medical phenomena. Dr. John Oppenheimer, who practices in Sag Harbor, believes the number of cases of influenza in the village is more than usual.
“[In the winter] there is always something going around. There was a coughing bug and then a vomiting bug, but the flu is now surfacing,” said Oppenheimer. “The flu hasn’t really hit out here in a long time, but now we are seeing it.”
On Friday, Oppenheimer had diagnosed five patients with the flu within 24 hours. By the time these patients saw Oppenheimer, their illnesses had become pretty debilitating. One female patient told Oppenheimer that she felt as if she had walked into a brick wall. In addition to her overall body ache, the patient displayed all the classic symptoms of influenza, like a high fever, runny nose, cough and extreme fatigue.
Pediatrician Gail Schonfeld, who heads East End Pediatrics in East Hampton, started seeing patients test positive for the flu two weeks ago, but says many who are sick simply stay at home to wait out the illness. Three of her patients contracted the ‘b’ strain of the flu, which is the rarer type, although they had gotten flu shots before becoming sick. Marsha Kenny, of Southampton Hospital, added that the influenza shot doesn’t fight against every strain of the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), influenza has been widespread in New York State for the past two weeks. Every year, it’s estimated that five to twenty percent of the population contract influenza, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from influenza complications and 36,000 people die from the flu, reported the CDCP. However, young children, pregnant women, seniors and people with chronic conditions are more likely to contract the flu.
Schonfeld believes it will soon be mandatory for all school age children to get an annual flu shot. This policy has already been enacted in New Jersey. She added that a new way of administering the vaccination, through a nose spray, will help make this a reality in New York State.
As the sniffles, cough and general sickness seem to spread throughout the village, local doctors recommend residents wash their hands frequently, steer clear of those who are already ill and still get a flu shot, if they haven’t already become ill.