With dire predictions about this year's flu outbreak, already being called the worst in decades, there's a big effort underway to reach high risk, low-income families, and convince them to get a flu shot.
As Onondaga County residents sign up for Christmas Bureau food and toys this week, they're also being greeted by a staffer from Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital who asks if they've gotten the flu vaccine, then offers a free shot.
"We know that these families with kids are at higher risk for influenza because chidren transmit influenza to adults, " says Pediatric Infectious Disease specialist Dr. Joe Domachowske, who's one of the doctors giving the shots.
In addition to offering the shots, the Upstate Golisano team also asks people in line to fill out a questionnaire on why they chose to get the flu shot or why they are electing not to get the flu shot this year.
It is part of a research project being put together by Dr. Manika Suryadevara, a Pediatric Infectious Disease specialist at Golisano.
"The people who do not want to get the flu faccine really have some misconceptions about the vaccine," Dr. Suryadevara says. " I feel it's really important that we educte everybody."
Even though the research project is not quite done, they already know the most common misconception: that you can get the flu from the shot. This is not true, say the doctors. As the doctors pick up the surveys, they talk to those opting not to get the flu shot about why the myth is just a myth.
The flu shots are being offered, free, at Syracuse's Oncenter during the Christmas Bureau registration, which runs until Friday. They're open late, until 7pm on Thursday, and they'll give shots to people who've already signed up at other registration locations, as well as people who are in line at the Oncenter.
The concern about flu in Central New York this year is growing as 1,041 cases have been reported Oneida County so far and Onondaga County has reported 406 cases. At this point last year, there were none reported.
New York health officials say flu cases have been confirmed in more than half the state and they're encouraging people to get vaccinated. The flu season typically begins in October and continues through May, peaking in late winter or early spring. Last year, almost 1,200 people required hospitalization and one child was killed by the infection, which can be treated with antiviral medications.Flu spreads through coughing and sneezing and begins with a sudden fever, chills and aches along with a cough or sore throat.
(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.)