Health Commissioner Warns Flu Season is Heating Up

Influenza Now Considered "Widespread" Throughout State, Flu Vaccine Still Available

Albany, January 29 , 2002 – After an initial delay, influenza outbreaks are occurring on a widespread basis throughout New York, State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. said today – prompting her to urge anyone at high risk for flu and others who hope to avoid catching the flu to get a flu shot right away.

"We have received reports of outbreaks from across New York, and despite a late start, this year's flu season is shaping up to be much more severe than last year's," Dr. Novello said. "There is no time to waste. Remember, it takes at least two weeks to build immunity after getting your shot. Fortunately, there is still plenty of flu vaccine available for everyone who wants to protect themselves against influenza. Anyone who is in a high risk category should definitely get vaccinated and other New Yorkers should definitely consider it if they want to avoid the flu."

Currently, health officials have characterized influenza activity as "widespread" in New York, meaning that outbreaks have been reported in long term care facilities in counties representing more than fifty percent of the State's population. A total of 35 outbreaks have occurred to date; 12 of them in just the past two weeks. By comparison, there were only three outbreaks reported by this time last year.

Outbreaks represent just a small portion of the overall flu prevalence, since health care providers are not required to report individual flu cases. Although the State Health Department conducts laboratory surveillance for flu, the vast majority of influenza cases are not laboratory confirmed.

Symptoms of influenza resemble those of a cold, but come on swiftly and are more pronounced. A person who has the flu usually has a fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, chills, a severe headache and muscle aches as well as a cough and sore throat.

Individuals who know that they have been exposed to someone with influenza, or who are experiencing symptoms of flu, should consult with their health care provider immediately to determine if antiviral drugs may be helpful. Treatment with antiviral medications can sometimes make the course of illness less severe, if treatment is started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Antibiotics are not effective against influenza.

Anyone who may be coming down with the flu should avoid contact with high-risk individuals. Specifically, these people include:

  • Persons 65 years of age or older;
  • Residents or nursing home and residents of any other chronic care facilities;
  • Adults and children (aged six months or older) with chronic disease of the pulmonary or cardiovascular system, including asthma;
  • Adults and children (aged six months or older) who receive regular medical care or who have been hospitalized in the preceding year because of chronic diseases including immune system suppression, diabetes and kidney disease;
  • Children 6 months to 18 years of age who are on long term aspirin therapy,
  • Healthy pregnant women who will be in their second and third trimester during influenza season and pregnant women with medical conditions that increase their risk of complications from flu, regardless of the stage of pregnancy.

Individuals in any of these categories should already have received a flu shot, or, if they have not yet been vaccinated, should get a flu shot without delay. Flu season frequently extends into the early spring months. It is not too late to get a flu shot and vaccine is still available.

The 2001-2002 flu vaccine contains two "A"strains—Moscow and New Caledonia—and a "B" strain, B-Sichuan. Because the flu virus changes from one flu season to the next, flu vaccine must be changed every year to be effective. Those who are at high risk for flu should make sure they are vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia, as well. A one-time dose of pneumococcal vaccine usually will confer lifetime immunity to individuals over 65.

A State Health Department supported "Flu Information Hotline" at 1-800-342-9871 can help callers locate the nearest flu clinic. Additional information can be obtained by visiting the State's influenza website at www.flu.state.ny.us.

1/29/02-11-OPA