State Health Commissioner Urges Flu Prevention
Albany, November 3, 1995 -- With a new strain of virus expected this flu season, State Health Commissioner Barbara A. DeBuono, M.D., today urged people who need flu shots to get them without delay.
Terming influenza a serious disease with potentially deadly consequences, Dr. DeBuono stressed the importance of timely vaccination while receiving a flu shot at the State Employee Health Services office in the Empire State Plaza. The Health Commissioner said it is important that people at risk for the most severe effects of influenza are immunized before the illness strikes in full force a few weeks from now.
"Influenza is a nuisance for most persons in good health but it can lead to more severe illness, such as pneumonia, and even death, for the elderly and those individuals with existing health problems," she said. "Influenza vaccines have proven to be very safe and effective over the years."
Dr. DeBuono said the high-risk group includes persons 65 and older and individuals with a chronic health condition, regardless of their age. Immunization is particularly crucial for adults and children with chronic cardiovascular or pulmonary disorders which require regular medical follow-up or hospital treatment. In addition, health care workers who care for high-risk patients should be immunized, along with anyone else who has close contact with people in the high-risk group.
According to the Health Commissioner, this year's flu vaccine provides protection against three strains of influenza: a new strain, A/Johannesburg; A/Texas; and B/Harbin. Dr. DeBuono noted that it takes approximately two weeks for the body to build immunity after a flu shot is administered. Because of the time lag, it is important for high risk persons to get immunized before the flu season reaches an active stage. Most flu cases occur between the months of December and April.
"Experience has shown that it is extremely difficult to predict how severe a particular flu season will be," Dr. DeBuono said. "We are already monitoring flu activity in New York State, so I strongly urge anyone at high risk to get a flu shot right away."
The Commissioner said both the State Health Department and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that high-risk people get vaccinated against pneumoccal disease along with their flu shot. Like influenza, pneumoccal disease can result in severe health problems for these individuals and may also prove fatal.
Each year throughout the flu season, the State Health Department conducts a weekly surveillance to determine how prevalent flu is in the general population and what specific strains are present. The surveillance includes reports from County Health Departments describing flu-like activity in their area, such as school closings because of illness, and reports from laboratories across the state on actual isolations of the influenza. These are obtained through analyses of throat cultures taken from individuals suffering from flu-like symptoms. So far this autumn, one case of influenza has been identified in New York State.
Nationally, thousands of people die each year from influenza-related illnesses, according to the CDC. Most deaths caused by influenza occur in people who are 65 or older.
Dr. DeBuono advised New Yorkers to contact their local health department, or check with their regular health care provider, for information about where to get a flu shot. In many communities, public health agencies and senior citizens groups sponsor annual influenza immunization clinics.