As flu diagnoses continue to increase across the Northeast, officials are beefing up prevention and care efforts to combat the virus.
February is typically the month when flu activity is greatest across America. With confirmed cases on the rise, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo directed the state Department of Health to authorize emergency assistance funding to local health departments in 57 counties and New York City, a move the Democrat says is aimed at accommodating New Yorkers still needing a flu shot.
State health officials say this is a severe year for flu: the number of lab-confirmed flu cases topped 15,000 reported since last week, including more than 2,300 who required hospitalization. Brad Hutton is Deputy Commissioner for Public Health: "This past week was slightly flatter increase than the two weeks prior but we still haven't peaked."
More than 52,000 cases of the flu have been confirmed in New York since February 3rd. Albany County Epidemiologist Elizabeth Lewis says this season has been dominated by the influenza AH3N2 strain, often linked with higher mortality and hospitalization rates among young children and seniors. "But it's not the only strain. We are seeing influenza B, we are seeing influenza AH1N1, and when you get vaccinated it protects against all those strains, and so that's why it's important to get vaccinated every year."
Flu is also on the rise in neighboring states.
Vermont officials report Influenza-Like Illness or ILI accounted for 6.5 percent of emergency room visit between January 21 and 27. Outbreaks have been identified in every part of the state.
Massachusetts health officials say flu activity is at its second-highest level since 2009, when the Swine Flu epidemic hit.
Many local health departments across Connecticut were set to hold flu shot clinics Saturday. Figures released by the state show emergency room visits attributed to the flu are at 14.2 percent.
Back in New York, Hutton says Governor Cuomo is pulling no punches in the battle against flu. "In previous weeks the governor issued an executive order which allowed pharmacists to provide vaccinations to children. Otherwise, under State Education law, they wouldn't have been able to. As of yesterday, pharmacists had vaccinated 5,400 children against influenza. This week, in addition to that enhanced reimbursement for counties, our state health department will also be conducting increased outreached efforts to other different sectors, where we'll be doing webinars for superintendents and school nurses and then for state employees and then for other direct care providers across the state."
Cuomo directed local health departments to re-focus outreach to vulnerable populations, including daycares, nursing homes, senior centers, and homeless shelters. Albany County’s Lewis: "You need to remember to wash your hands with soap and water, frequently. And that's how you're gonna protect yourself from becoming ill. And if you do get sick, you're gonna practice your good cough etiquette and you're gonna stay home. Don't spread it to others."