2018-02-13 / Front Page

Influenza Numbers Climb in Del. Co.

By Rosie Cunningham

DELAWARE COUNTY - This is the ninth consecutive week that widespread influenza activity has been reported, according to the Delaware County Department of Health. In New York State, as of Feb. 3, there were 15,753 laboratory-confirmed influenza reports, a 35 percent increase over the week prior.

In Delaware County, for the week ending on Jan. 20, there were 15 confirmed cases. That number has steadily climbed to more than 114 confirmed cases.

According to a release from the Delaware County Department of Public Health, young children and seniors should be treated if flu-like symptoms occur. Some symptoms include muscle aches, cough, congestions, runny nose, chills, dehydration, fatigue, fever, flushing, loss of appetite, body ache, sweating, chest discomfort, head congestion, headache, nausea, shortness of breath, sore throat, or swollen lymph nodes.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo directed New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to authorize emergency assistance funding to counties as flu diagnoses continued to increase in communities across the state, according to a Feb. 8 press release. This action provides enhanced reimbursement to counties and will help fund expanded efforts to promote and increase access to flu vaccines statewide. Governor Cuomo is calling on all 58 local health departments to expand efforts to more readily accommodate New Yorkers still needing a flu shot.

“As flu diagnoses and hospitalizations continue to increase to epidemic proportions, this administration is doing everything in its power to protect New Yorkers from this especially durable strain of influenza,” Governor Cuomo said. “I ask all New Yorkers to take advantage of this expanded access to flu vaccines and join us in slowing down and stopping the spread of this virus in the Empire State.”

With 15,753 laboratory confirmed influenza cases reported to the New York State Department of Health, and 2,349 New Yorkers hospitalized with confirmed influenza, these numbers are again the highest weekly numbers in both categories since reporting began in 2004 and exceed last week’s record high 11,683 confirmed cases and 2,221 hospitalizations.

Cuomo has also directed local health departments to re-focus enhanced outreach to vulnerable populations, including daycares, nursing homes, senior centers, and homeless shelters, to reemphasize the need for flu vaccinations, provide targeted education regarding the signs and symptoms of flu, and to identify and assist those populations with low vaccine rates. Furthermore, local health departments will coordinate with local school superintendents to identify schools experiencing an increase in absenteeism rates due to illness among students and staff and link them to ongoing education and vaccination efforts. These partnerships will further ensure effective education and guidance is provided to protect children.

New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “We need to make sure all New Yorkers understand how to protect themselves and their families and communities from this epidemic. From getting the flu shot to hand washing to covering your mouth when you cough, everyone can help prevent the flu. Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, the Department of Health is working with local health departments and other state agencies to ensure increased access to the flu vaccine and educate New Yorkers.”

Expanding on New York State’s previously announced actions to combat the flu epidemic, the Governor also directed the New York State Department of Health to take the following steps:

Last month, the Governor signed an executive order allowing pharmacists to administer flu vaccines to children aged two to 18 - increasing vaccine accessibility for New York children and families as influenza continues to spread across New York. The executive order suspends the section of state education law that limits the authority of pharmacists to administer immunizing agents to anyone under age 18 to allow vaccines to be administered to anyone age two and up. Parents and guardians are encouraged to call pharmacies ahead of their visit, to ensure they are ready to receive patients in this age group. Parents and guardians with children between the ages of six and 24 months are still encouraged to see their primary care provider for the vaccination. As a result of the executive order, more than 5,400 children have reportedly been vaccinated in pharmacies.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), vaccination should continue throughout flu season, as long as influenza viruses are circulating. CDC also recommends that people who are very sick or people who are at high risk of serious influenza complications be treated early with flu antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs work best when started within 48 hours of symptoms first appearing. Included in this week’s report is a single case of resistance to antiviral medications. It’s the first finding in New York state this flu season, and first finding in New York state since the 2012-2013 flu season. The Department will continue to monitor antiviral resistance and will inform clinicians on findings if a trend emerges. The Department is aware of some localized shortages of specific formulations of influenza antivirals, particularly the oseltamivir oral suspension and generic oseltamivir capsules. The Department is working with providers to make sure they are aware of all potential sources of these medications. Additionally, the Department is also closely monitoring vaccine supply but still encourages residents to call ahead to providers.

According to Delaware County Public Health Director Amanda Walsh in a previous interview, in addition to getting a flu shot and staying home when sick, it’s essential to practice good hand-hygiene:

Unlike some viruses, influenza is easily killed by soap and hot water.

Wash your hands often with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds to protect yourself from germs and avoid spreading them to others.

Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to use when soap and water are not available. Choose a product with at least 60 percent alcohol.

Do not cough or sneeze into your hands. Instead, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. People with the flu are infectious for up to seven days after symptoms begin.

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