EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Four children in New York State died in January from the flu.

Pediatric flu deaths are considered a key benchmark of a severe flu season. Experts have important advice and warnings for parents.

Nassau University Medical Center’s pediatric nursing center is now open 24-7 to deal with an influx of Long Island children with fever, nausea, chills, and muscle aches.

“The cases of flu are continuing to increase week by week. We are right in the middle of flu season,” Dr. Rachel Robbins said.

The state health department wants everyone over 6 months of age to be vaccinated, describing the status of Influenza as ‘widespread’ and affecting all of New York’s 62 counties.

“The literature, and our experience shows that the vaccine works. It decreases severity of illness. Children get sick less,” Dr. Vincent Politi explained.

Doctors use swab to test, and tell parents that prevention — vaccination and hand washing — is the best medicine.

“I had it for three weeks,” Rejean Bennet said, “I have an 8-year-old, she’s been out of school.”

Epidemiologists call the flu outbreak so far ‘significant.’

“We look at childhood deaths as a parameter for the severity so the fact that we have seen four so far this year is concerning,” Dr. Janice Verley said.

In mild flu seasons there are no pediatric deaths.

Last year, there were three. So far this season, four children in New York State have died from the flu.

The nasal spray vaccine is not being used this year because it was not effective on children.

As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez explained, it’s not too late to get the vaccine.

Influenza virus is so contagious that short of locking yourself in an airtight room from October to March and avoiding all human contact, the shot is still the best way to protect yourself. 

The virus can spread through hand contact, so hygiene is incredibly important.

“Good home and hand hygiene is so important,” Medical Director at Mount Sinai Hospital Peter Shearer told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.

He said flu fatalities are typically linked to those who are most susceptible.

“Very young, who also have an immature immune system,” Shearer said.

Even after getting the shot, many people will still come down with the flu. The shot does not protect against bad colds — which many people mistake for the flu.

There are two vaccines with either three or four strains of virus in them. So far the vaccine seems to be a pretty good match for the main strain that people are getting — a H3N3 Type A-Virus.

Even if you do catch the flu, the vaccine should make your illness less severe, so it’s not a wasted immunization.

Although the CDC said flu activity has been widespread this year — meaning many areas of the country are reporting illnesses — it has been an average year. However, the season doesn’t peak until February and can go on until the spring.

Because it’s unknown how many cases of flu the shot actually prevented, so reported cases only tell half the story.