Albany, NY - December 28, 2016 - New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker today declared influenza prevalent in New York State. With this declaration, health care workers who are not vaccinated against influenza must now wear surgical or procedure masks in areas where patients are typically present.
“Now that flu is officially prevalent in New York, we need to step up our defenses against this potentially life threatening illness,” Dr. Zucker said. “Getting a flu vaccine is still the best way to stay healthy during flu season. I encourage all New Yorkers, but especially health care workers, to get a vaccine if they have not done so yet. Those who choose not to get vaccinated will be required by public health law to wear a mask whenever they are near patients.”
Preventing health care personnel from contracting influenza and transmitting it to patients is a serious patient safety issue. Because health care workers are at increased risk of acquiring influenza from their contact with sick patients, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends that health care workers be vaccinated for influenza.
Flu activity in the State is now considered to be widespread, with laboratory-confirmed cases in 39 counties and all boroughs of New York City. So far this season in New York, 658 flu-related hospitalizations have been reported, and there have been no reports of pediatric deaths from flu. Over the last three seasons, there have been 17 pediatric flu deaths in total in New York and an average of 9,800 flu-related hospitalizations each season.
The Regulation for Prevention of Influenza Transmission first went into effect during the 2013-14 influenza season. The regulation requires health care workers in certain facilities regulated by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) to wear surgical or procedure masks while influenza is prevalent if they have not had a flu vaccine. Amendments to the regulations allow for the removal of masks when health care workers are accompanying patients in the community, providing speech therapy services, or communicating with persons who lip read.
In New York State, 86% percent of health care personnel in surveyed facilities were vaccinated during the 2015-2016 flu season. Information on state vaccination rates by health care facility can be found here.
Flu season occurs primarily from October through May, often peaking in February. It is not too late to get vaccinated, and there are ample amounts of the vaccine available. This year's flu shot covers the most common circulating strains of the flu. But the nasal spray is not recommended this year.
NYSDOH recommends that everyone six months of age or older receive a flu vaccination. The vaccine is especially important for people at high risk for complications from the flu, which includes children under age 2, pregnant women and people with preexisting conditions such as asthma, heart disease and weakened immune systems due to disease or medications such as chemotherapy or chronic steroid use. Since the flu virus can spread through coughing or sneezing, it is also important that family members and people who regularly come into contact with children, older adults, and other individuals at higher risk get a flu shot.
Most health insurance plans cover flu 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. Those 18 years of age and older may also be able to get their flu 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.