The state Department of Health continues to emphasize the importance of everyone aged six months and older getting a flu shot, with the Department’s latest report showing an additional pediatric death in New York, bringing the total to five so far this season.
“One pediatric flu death is already too many,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said. “With yet another death being reported in New York, we urge every New Yorker, parent, and guardian to get themselves and their children their flu shot immediately. It is not too late to get the most important protection for yourself and your family possible against becoming seriously ill.”
The state’s new flu surveillance report, with data through Dec. 17, shows a total of 217,094 positive influenza cases across all 62 counties in New York have been reported to date. Additionally, there were 61 outbreaks in acute care and long term care facilities.
Outside of New York City, week-over-week lab-confirmed flu cases are up 4 percent, rising from 34,599 cases to 36,047. The report also found that confirmed cases in New York City dropped 19 percent, while overall hospitalizations were down 3 percent from the previous week ending the week of Dec. 17 at 2,709 hospitalizations across the State.
Nationally, the weekly U.S. surveillance report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there have been 12,000 deaths across the country attributed to the flu so far this season, including 47 pediatric deaths. CDC’s report found an estimated 190,000 hospitalizations due to influenza, putting the cumulative rate at 6 times higher than the highest rate for this same time over the last decade.
Officials urged New Yorkers to take precautions to protect against the flu. This includes getting the annual flu shot and wearing a well-fitting mask, especially for those who experience symptoms or live with, care for, or are considered at the heightened risk of severe illness (children 5 years of age or younger, pregnant people, older adults, and/or those with underlying health conditions such as a weakened immune system, diabetes, heart and/or lung disease, and/or asthma).
To treat flu infections, there are antiviral medications that can be prescribed by health care providers, such as Tamiflu, which can reduce the length and severity of the flu. Amid reports of spot shortages in some areas, the federal government recently gave the state permission to tap into the Strategic National Stockpile to secure Tamiflu and ensure supplies are available as needed.
Avoiding illness by getting the flu shot remains the most effective way to prevent infection and reduce the risk of severe illness for children and adults. According to research gathered by the CDC, vaccination has significant health advantages, particularly for people at risk of getting very sick, including:
Officials said it prevents people from getting sick with the flu, cutting the risk of having to go to the doctor by 40 to 60 percent. In children, the vaccine reduces the risk of severe, life-threatening influenza by 75 percent; decreases flu-related hospitalizations by 41 percent; and cuts the risk of emergency department visits in half.
The health department said flu vaccination during pregnancy reduces the risk of being hospitalized by an average of 40 percent and helps protect the baby from flu for several months after birth, when babies are too young to get vaccinated. For older adults, the vaccine reduces the risk of flu-associated hospitalization by about 40 percent.
Among those with chronic health conditions, the vaccine is associated with lower rates of some cardiac events, as well as reducing the risk of hospitalization from flu-related worsening of lung diseases and diabetes.
The state is utilizing a number of tools to increase public knowledge about rising flu rates and the importance of vaccinations as a critical prevention step, including sharing information on social media platforms Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The flu vaccine is also widely available, found at pharmacies, health clinics and physician’s offices across the state.
To locate a flu vaccine location, visit vaccines.gov.
In addition to getting the vaccine and wearing a mask when indoors or in crowds, simple preventative actions can help stop the spread of flu and other respiratory viruses:
• Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Stay home when sick.
• Cover cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
For more information about influenza in New York, visit NYSDOH’s flu website.