ALBANY — Influenza is officially prevalent in New York, with 1,230 cases confirmed statewide as of Saturday.
State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker announced the news Thursday, triggering a regulation to go into effect that requires all unvaccinated health care workers to wear surgical masks in areas where patients are typically present. Influenza and its complications have led to 923 hospitalizations across the state so far, and one child's death.
"The importance of getting vaccinated against influenza to protect yourself, as well as your family and friends, cannot be overstated," Zucker said. "Healthcare personnel are routinely exposed to sick patients and are also in close contact with vulnerable patients. The requirement...protects both our critical healthcare workforce and at-risk New Yorkers. I encourage all New Yorkers older than six months to get their influenza vaccine as soon as possible."
Flu season occurs primarily from October through May, often peaking in February.
The number of cases confirmed at labs in New York so far this season outpaces cases from the same time last year, when there were 891 cases confirmed as of Dec. 15. Last year's season, which was unusually vicious, peaked at 18,258 cases statewide as of Feb. 17. For comparison, previous seasons in New York peaked at 6,076 cases as of Feb. 11, 2017 and 6,422 cases as of March 12, 2016.
It was one of the deadliest in four decades. More than 80,000 Americans died of flu in the 2017-18 season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Saratoga County appears the hardest hit of all upstate counties this season with 28 cases confirmed. The Capital Region as a whole has had 77 cases confirmed.
New Yorkers can see just how prevalent the flu is near them using a new flu tracking platform published on the NYS Health Connector website. It includes a breakdown of confirmed cases by county, week and year dating back to 2015-16, making year-over-year comparisons possible.
It also shows which type of flu is prevalent (A, B or unspecified). So far this year, 1,140 of the 1,230 confirmed cases around New York are Type A.
State health officials are reminding New Yorkers that it's not too late to get vaccinated, noting that there's plenty of vaccine still available. While the vaccine is not always effective at preventing flu, studies have shown it can lessen the symptoms and duration of the illness.
By Bethany Bump