Health Officials Urge New Yorkers to Get Flu Shots After Issuing Health Advisory for a Dramatic Increase in Flu CasesPosted: Updated:
With peak flu season in full swing and a sharp increase in the number of laboratory-confirmed influenza cases and hospitalizations reported statewide, the New York State Department of Health today reminded New Yorkers to start the New Year with a healthy focus and get a flu shot. Flu season occurs primarily from October through May, and the 2019-20 season is well underway.
“As the flu season is off to a quick start across the state, I am urging New Yorkers to take steps to protect themselves and their families; it’s not too late to get a flu shot,” New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, "The flu shot remains the best way to protect against the spread of the flu and is particularly important for the most vulnerable to influenza, such as the elderly and very young.”
The past week saw another sharp increase in flu cases. Last week, 9,211 laboratory-confirmed flu cases were reported to the State Department of Health, a 74-percent increase in cases from the week prior. This flu season, 22,763 laboratory-confirmed cases have been reported to the Department. The number of weekly hospitalizations has also increased, with 1,387 New Yorkers hospitalized for lab confirmed influenza, up 119 percent from last week. So far this season in New York, 3,592 flu-related hospitalizations and one flu-associated pediatric death have been reported.
The State Department of Health has issued a statewide health advisory to health care providers following this dramatic increase in flu activity across New York State. The advisory alerts providers of this increased activity and encourages them to promote the effectiveness of people getting vaccinated to help prevent the spread of influenza. While the effectiveness of the flu vaccine can vary, recent evidence indicates this year’s flu vaccine is well-matched to the flu viruses that are circulating this season. In general, flu vaccines tend to work best against influenza A and B viruses.
The latest increase in flu cases comes after State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker this past December declared influenza prevalent in New York State. The announcement put into effect a regulation requiring that healthcare workers who are not vaccinated against influenza wear surgical or procedure masks in areas where patients are typically present.
Influenza activity data is available on the New York State Flu Tracker. The Flu Tracker is a dashboard on the New York State Health Connector that provides timely information about local, regional and statewide influenza activity. Click here for a video demonstration of how you can use the New York State Flu Tracker.
The State Health Department recommends that everyone six months of age or older receive an influenza vaccination. The vaccine is especially important for people at high risk for complications from influenza, including children under age 2, pregnant women and adults over age 65. People with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma and heart disease, are also at greater risk, as are individuals with weakened immune systems due to disease or medications such as chemotherapy or chronic steroid use. Since influenza virus can spread easily by coughing or sneezing, it is also important that family members and people in regular contact with high risk individuals get an influenza vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conduct studies each year to determine how effective that year's vaccine is at protecting against influenza-related illness. While the effectiveness can vary from year to year, studies show that the vaccine remains the most effective way to protect public health. Additionally, studies show that the influenza vaccine can make the illness milder in certain cases where an individual was vaccinated but still contracted influenza.
Most health insurance plans cover influenza vaccines. Individuals and families without health insurance should check with their county health department to find out if local clinics will be held to provide free or low-cost vaccinations. Children two years of age and older and adults may also be able to get their influenza vaccine at a local pharmacy.
For additional information about influenza, including how it is monitored in New York State, visit the Department of Health web page.