Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker has now declared influenza as ‘prevalent’ in New York State, which requires all healthcare workers who aren’t vaccinated to wear surgical or procedural masks in areas where patients are typically present.
That regulation first went into effect during the 2013-14 flu season.
Flu activity in the state is now considered to be widespread, with lab-confirmed cases in 42 counties and New York City, leading so far to just under 700 hospitalizations and one pediatric death.
Cortland County has just four confirmed cases so far, but generally accumulates several hundred by the end of the season, according to the NY State Flu Tracker.
“Getting vaccinated remains the best way for all New Yorkers to protect against the flu, and it is vital for caregivers who come in contact with patients to get vaccinated to help prevent the spread of flu,” said New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “The requirement that unvaccinated healthcare personnel wear a mask is intended to protect patients from getting the flu because healthcare workers can pose a risk to vulnerable patients by transmitting influenza, which often causes serious complications.”
Over the last three seasons, there have been 20 flu-associated pediatric deaths in New York and an average of 18,352 flu-related hospitalizations per season, which primarily occurs from October through May.
The DOH recommends that anyone six months or older receive an influenza vaccination, which is especially important for people at high risk for complications from the flu, 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.
Additionally, since the flu can spread easily by coughing or sneezing, it’s also important that family members and people in regular contact with high risk individuals get vaccinated.