State Health Commissioner Novello Advises New Yorkers as Flu Season Approaches

People at High Risk, Health Care Workers, Urged to Get Flu Vaccine First

ALBANY, NY, September 29, 2005 - In anticipation of the upcoming flu season, State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., today advised New Yorkers who are most vulnerable to complications from influenza, as well as health care workers who have direct contact with patients, to seek vaccination over the next few weeks. The influenza season typically begins in late October and may run through April.

Federal officials have said that states are now receiving some supplies of flu vaccine, while additional supplies will arrive periodically over the next few months from manufacturers.

"According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there should be enough flu vaccine available over the course of the 2005-2006 flu season," Dr. Novello said. "Some vaccine is available now and more will arrive in the coming months. It is important for individuals in the high priority groups to receive a flu shot in October so that they are protected against the flu. Individuals who are relatively healthy and are not considered to be at high risk should begin pursuing vaccination beginning in November if they want a flu shot."

Recent CDC guidance encourages health care providers to concentrate vaccination efforts on their patients at the highest risk for serious influenza-related complications in October. Health care workers who provide direct patient care, likewise, should receive vaccination.

Individuals who should get vaccinated first include:

  • persons 65 years of age and older, with or without chronic health conditions;
  • residents of long-term care facilities;
  • persons aged 2-64 years with chronic health conditions;
  • children aged 6-23 months;
  • pregnant women;
  • health-care personnel who provide direct patient care; and
  • household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children under six months of age.

People at high risk of medical complications should also receive pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) which protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. One dose of PPV usually will confer lifetime immunity to persons over sixty-five years of age.

Again this year, an alternative to injectable (inactivated) influenza vaccine is available. Some people may opt for Flu Mist intra-nasal vaccine. Flu Mist has not been approved for use by those who are younger than five, older than 49 or have a chronic medical condition for which annual vaccination with inactivated flu vaccine is recommended. In addition, persons in close contact with severely immuno-compromised persons should receive a flu shot to help prevent their own sickness or the spread of illness to others.

This year's influenza vaccine contains antigens to the three strains of flu virus that experts expect will most likely be circulating during the 2005/2006 flu season: A/California, A/New Caledonia, and B/Shanghai, or their equivalents. It's important to get a flu shot annually since viruses that cause flu often change from year to year.

Those who want to get a flu shot should check with their health care providers to determine if they have received vaccine. Information about flu vaccination clinics is also posted online by the New York State Office for the Aging at www.aging.ny.gov. The public may also check with a pharmacist or senior center locally, or contact the county Office for the Aging or Health Department to find out when and where clinics have been scheduled in their community.

About the flu

Influenza is a serious disease that contributes to 36,000 deaths, on average, each year and 200,000 annual hospitalizations. Symptoms of influenza resemble those of a cold, but come on much more 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.