ALBANY, N.Y. (December 20, 2018) – New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker today declared that influenza is now prevalent in New York State.
This announcement puts 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.
“The importance of getting vaccinated against influenza to protect yourself, as well as your family and friends, cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Zucker. “Healthcare personnel are routinely exposed to sick patients and are also in close contact with vulnerable patients. The requirement that unvaccinated healthcare personnel wear a mask when patients are nearby protects both our critical healthcare workface and at-risk New Yorkers. I encourage all New Yorkers older than six months to get their influenza vaccine as soon as possible.”
The Regulation for Prevention of Influenza Transmission first went into effect during the 2013-14 influenza season. It requires unvaccinated health care workers in certain healthcare facilities regulated by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) to wear surgical or procedure masks during those times when the Commissioner declares that influenza is prevalent in New York State.
The Department has also launched the New York State Flu Tracker, a new dashboard on the New York State Health Connector that is an easy to understand source of influenza data to keep the public informed of rates of influenza in their county. The dashboard displays the number of laboratory-confirmed influenza cases by county, week and influenza type (A, B or not specified) for the current season and the three previous seasons.
The goal of the Tracker is to provide timely information about local, regional and statewide influenza activity throughout the current influenza season. The Tracker answers questions such as what influenza activity looks like this week, what it looks like this season and how it compares to previous seasons. This information helps to monitor influenza-related illness, determine which influenza viruses are circulating and communicate when and where influenza activity is occurring. Click here for a video demonstration of how you can use New York State Flu Tracker.
Data are updated every Thursday by 5 p.m. during the influenza season. The influenza season occurs primarily from October through May, often peaking in February.
This influenza season, New York has had 3,283 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza in 43 counties and all 5 boroughs of New York City. During this period, there have been 923 influenza-related hospitalizations reported, and one influenza-associated pediatric death. Over the last three seasons, there have been 19 influenza-associated pediatric deaths in New York and an average of 15,101 influenza-related hospitalizations.
Influenza is a serious illness that can lead to hospitalization or death. It is not too late to get vaccinated, and there are ample amounts of the vaccine available.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conduct studies each year to determine how effective each year’s vaccine is at protecting against influenza-related illness and, 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.
NYSDOH 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 preexisting 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.
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 2 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 at: http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza/seasonal/