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Cuomo directs additional state resources to battle flu

Governor Andrew Cuomo has directed the New York State Department of Health to take additional steps to ensure healthcare facilities are prepared for the remainder of the flu season.

The Governor directed the Department to begin enhanced monitoring of hospitals through the Health Emergency Response Data System to ensure hospitals have the capacity, guidance and resources necessary to combat the recent surge in hospitalizations.

“As the numbers of flu cases and flu hospitalizations continue to rise, I’ve directed the Department of Health to use every tool at its disposal to make sure our healthcare system remains prepared for an influx of patients,” Governor Cuomo said. “While providers are taking extra steps in response to the uptick in the flu season, New Yorkers can still protect themselves and others by getting a flu shot.”

The latest influenza surveillance report shows another sharp increase in flu cases and flu-associated hospitalizations. Last week 1,964 New Yorkers were hospitalized with lab-confirmed influenza, up 34 percent from the previous week. This season, there have been 5,694 flu-related hospitalizations. In addition, last week, 10,085 laboratory-confirmed flu cases were reported to the State Department of Health, a nine-percent increase in cases from the week prior. There has been a total of 32,848 lab-confirmed cases reported this season, with one flu-associated pediatric death.

By utilizing HERDS, New York State healthcare facilities will be required to report numerous flu-related information to the Department each week, including their capacity by types of patient care units, whether they have activated their surge plan, and whether they have adequate ventilators and antivirals, in addition to other information.

Last week, the State Department of Health issued a statewide health advisory alerting healthcare providers to the dramatic increase in flu activity across New York State. The advisory also encourages providers to promote the effectiveness of patients getting vaccinated to help prevent the spread of influenza. While the effectiveness of the flu vaccine can vary, this year’s flu vaccine is likely to be more effective against the types of flu viruses that are circulating this season, as flu vaccines tend to work best against influenza A (H1) and B viruses.

Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “As our hospitals have experienced a surge in flu-associated hospitalizations, we are working closely with them to make sure they are equipped to meet the demands of this flu season. The sizable increase in the number of people hospitalized further emphasizes the importance of getting a flu shot now.”

The latest increase in lab-confirmed flu hospitalizations comes after Dr. 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 and urges 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. 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.

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