Statement from New York State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H. Dr.P.H Regarding Albany County Flu Death

Albany, NY, December 17, 2003 - We are saddened to learn of the death of an Albany County teenager from complications of influenza. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says at this time there is no evidence that the strain of influenza virus that is predominant this flu season poses an additional risk to children, we understand that reports of serious illness and influenza-related deaths in young people cause parents great concern.

Each year, sadly, 36,000 people in the United States die from complications of influenza, including young people. However, for the vast majority of people, influenza is unpleasant, but not serious or life threatening. Flu symptoms can include coughing, sneezing, sore throat and runny nose. Unlike the common cold, the flu strikes with sudden severity. High fevers and intense muscle aches are typical flu indicators.

Adults with the flu need more rest and more fluids than usual. Take aspirin or non-aspirin pain relievers to ease the muscle aches that typically accompany the flu, especially if the patient’s pain is resulting in loss of sleep. Advice for children is the same, except those youngsters under age 18 should not be given aspirin, because of increased risk of getting the potentially deadly Reye Syndrome. Use other medications to reduce fever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

If you develop the flu, it is advisable to get plenty of rest, drink a lot of liquids, and avoid using alcohol and tobacco. Also, you can take medications to relieve the symptoms of flu (but never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms – and particularly fever – without first speaking to your doctor).

If you are at special risk from complication of flu, you should consult your health-care provider when your flu symptoms begin. This includes people 65 years or older, people with chronic medical conditions, including children, pregnant women, and babies between six months and 23 months old. Your doctor may choose to use certain antiviral drugs to treat the flu. It’s important to get started on this medicine very soon after symptoms begin. Some of these medicines can also be used longer term by high risk individuals to help prevent flu.

If, you are having unusually severe flu symptoms, (for example, if you are having trouble breathing), you should consult your health-care provider right away. Seek medical treatment, also, in the case of severe dehydration (for instance, if urination has ceased). Consult your health care provider, as well, in instances where a patient’s demeanor changes abruptly, such as when a sick child suddenly becomes combative or has been complaining but then becomes overly lethargic.

We are continuing to work with local health departments and hospitals to make flu vaccine available where it is most needed. The CDC has advised that available flu shots should be prioritized for those at highest risk: This group includes people age 65 years and older and people of any age with chronic medical conditions. Pregnant women and children between 6 months and 23 months of age also are at increased risk from flu complications.

The State Health Department this week received approximately 3400 doses of Aventis adult formulation influenza vaccine from the CDC, and is in the process of shipping them to local health departments. Local health departments should receive additional vaccine (ranging from 20 to 400 doses each based on the amount requested) by the end of this week. We expect to receive more pediatric vaccine next month and will distribute them as soon as they become available.

Even though vaccine supplies are being depleted, as is normal this time of year, enormous numbers of Americans have already gotten a flu shot this year, which means that fewer people are likely to get sick and expose others to flu. Those who cannot get a flu shot and want the flu vaccine may consider the new flu vaccine "nasal spray." The CDC has told us that this product is still readily available from manufacturers. However, this vaccine is only approved for healthy individuals aged 5 to 49. We encourage you to consult with your health care provider to help decide if this approach is right for you.

Here are additional steps you can take to reduce transmission of flu:

  • To help boost your immune system, get plenty of rest, exercise, and eat properly.
  • Know the symptoms of flu: Symptoms often resemble those of many upper respiratory infections, but appear much more swiftly and are more severe. 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.
  • Stay home from work or school if you experience flu symptoms. Taking it easy could help you feel better sooner and also will slow the spread of disease to others.
  • To reduce the spread of germs, cover your nose and mouth, preferably with disposable tissue, when coughing or sneezing. Always discard used tissue properly in the trash.
  • Pay attention to hand-washing. After using the bathroom, before eating and before and after preparing food, clean your hands with soap and warm water for at least 15 seconds. Carry a waterless hand gel and wash your hands frequently.
  • Clean surfaces you touch frequently, such as door knobs, water faucets, refrigerator handles and telephones.

For more information about influenza, please check the State Health Department’s website at www.health.state.ny.us.