State Health Commissioner Urges Parents to Vaccinate Children for Flu

Two Upstate Childhood Deaths Linked to Flu

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb 5, 2008)– State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., urged parents to have their children vaccinated for influenza (flu) after reports this week of two pediatric deaths linked to flu in upstate New York. Influenza activity is widespread in New York and other states, and is on the increase. To date, influenza has been reported in 50 New York counties including the five boroughs of New York City.

"These tragic deaths underscore the serious threat seasonal influenza poses, particularly for the very young, the elderly and anyone with a chronic medical condition," said Commissioner Daines. "We are particularly concerned for children who have asthma or chronic respiratory illness, because they are more vulnerable to serious complications from the flu. Local health departments and many health care providers have ample flu vaccine. Anyone who wants to reduce their risk for flu should get vaccinated. Its not too late."

To date, the department has received reports of the deaths of a 7-month-old infant from Monroe County and a 7-year-old child from Orange County. The children tested positive for influenza A and influenza B, respectively. Last season, there were nine reports in New York of deaths in children who tested positive for influenza. During the current flu season, 52 percent of persons hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza have been reported among children under 19 years of age.

The state Health Department recommends that all children, especially those aged six months to five years be vaccinated for the flu. In addition, children 5 years of age and older with chronic medical conditions should be vaccinated. To reach out to parents about the importance of having their children vaccinated, the state Health Department has produced a public service announcement (PSA) on flu that will air statewide on radio stations, beginning tomorrow.

Immunity against the flu develops approximately two weeks after vaccination, providing protection against the flu for the rest of the flu season, which could last into May. Each year, about 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized in the United States due to influenza and its complications.

Those at higher risk for complications due to influenza include:

  • Children from birth to five years old; older children with chronic illness including asthma;
  • Anyone with chronic illnesses such as respiratory, heart, lung, kidney disease or diabetes;
  • Pregnant women;
  • Residents of nursing homes;
  • People aged 50 years or older.

Symptoms of influenza are similar to cold symptoms, but occur more swiftly and are more pronounced. They can include a fever of more than100 degrees Fahrenheit, chills, a severe headache and muscle aches, as well as a cough or sore throat. If you have been exposed to someone with influenza, or are experiencing symptoms of influenza, consult with your health care provider immediately to determine whether antiviral drugs may be helpful. Treatment with antiviral medications can sometimes lessen the effects of influenza if treatment is started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Antibiotics are not effective against influenza.

The Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program provides vaccines at no cost to VFC-eligible children through public and private providers enrolled in the program. Under the program, the federal and state governments buy vaccines and distribute them to physicians' offices and public clinics to vaccinate children who meet the eligibility requirements. Children who are uninsured, underinsured or enrolled in Medicaid are eligible for free vaccines. Contact the New York State Vaccines for Children program at (800) 543-7468 for more information.

You can also reduce your risk for flu by washing your hands regularly and disinfecting surfaces, such as desktops and telephones. Eating healthy foods, getting enough rest and exercise can also help protect against influenza.

For information about a flu clinic in your area, contact your local health department at www.nyhealth.gov/nysdoh/lhu/map.htm or visit the State Health Department's Web site for general flu information at www.nyhealth.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza/.