Region among state’s highest for flu cases, officials warn

Published Jan 12, 2018 at 4:00pm

State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker is urging New Yorkers six months of age and older who have not yet received a flu shot to get vaccinated as soon as possible as much of the state grapples with a rise in active cases of the flu.

Over the past week, cases of influenza rose by 37 percent, and new cases of influenza were reported in 61 of 62 counties — with rates highest in Central New York, according to state statistics.

Oneida, Herkimer, Lewis and Madison counties were all in the state’s highest category for active flu cases with more than 10 verified cases of influenza per 100,000 residents over the past week. Health officials warn that the actual number of flu cases is likely to be significantly higher as many individuals with the flu may not seek medical treatment instead attempting to try to ride out the illness with over the counter medications.

The state also reported its first influenza-associated pediatric death this season, which was confirmed by the Wadsworth Center, the state’s public health laboratory in Albany. To protect the family’s privacy, the department can only confirm that the death occurred downstate. 

“Influenza is a significant threat to public health, and we are strongly encouraging anyone who has not already gotten the flu vaccine to get one immediately,” said Dr. Zucker. “Getting vaccinated is not just about protecting yourself, it also protects people around you, including those who are more vulnerable, like babies and young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions.”

For the last five weeks, influenza has been geographically widespread. As of Jan. 6, 11,280 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza have been reported and 3,606 people have been hospitalized with influenza in the state this season — again, with Central New York among the leaders during the period for active flu cases.

Adults age 65 and older, people with certain chronic medical conditions, young children and pregnant women are among those at highest risk for serious flu complications, which may require hospitalization and could result in death. Since the flu virus can spread through coughing or sneezing, it is especially important for family members and people who have regular contact with high-risk individuals to be vaccinated. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccination should continue throughout flu season, as long as flu viruses are circulating. Flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, but remains the best way to prevent illness and flu complications, including those that can lead to hospitalization.

Even though the effectiveness of the flu vaccine over the last few years has ranged from 30 to 60 percent, getting vaccinated can result in milder illness, if someone still gets the flu. A 2017 study showed the flu vaccine can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from influenza.

In addition, while influenza A(H3N2) viruses have been the most common ones circulating nationally, influenza B has been the most common strain circulating in some regions of the state, including central New York. The influenza vaccine is typically more effective against influenza B, which reiterates how important it is for New Yorkers to get vaccinated.

The flu can cause mild to severe illness. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. People infected with the flu may have respiratory symptoms without a fever. 

The CDC recommends that people who are very sick or people who are sick who are at high risk of serious flu complications be treated early with flu antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs work best when started within two days of symptoms first appearing.  There are no current shortages of antiviral drugs, and manufacturers report they expect to meet projected seasonal demands.

During last year’s flu season, there were 12,912 flu-related hospitalizations and eight pediatric deaths in New York. Over the last four years, there have been a total of 25 pediatric flu deaths in the state and an average of 10,571 flu-related hospitalizations a year.

In addition to getting a flu shot, it’s important to practice good hand-hygiene:

Wash your hands often with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds to protect yourself from germs and avoid spreading them to others. Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to use when soap and water are not available. Choose a product with at least 60% alcohol. Do not cough or sneeze into your hands. Instead, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue.

For more information about the flu, visit: