Influenza Is Prevalent In New York State

Latest Surveillance Data Shows Influenza Diagnoses Increasing

Unvaccinated Health Care Workers Must Now Wear Masks

DOH Reminds New Yorkers that it's Not Too Late to Get the Influenza Vaccine

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 13, 2017) – Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker today declared that influenza is now prevalent in New York State. The announcement puts into effect a regulation requiring that health care workers who are not vaccinated against influenza wear surgical or procedure masks in areas where patients are typically present.

"Vaccination is the best way to protect against influenza, and is especially important for health care workers," said Dr. Zucker. "Health care personnel are routinely exposed to sick patients and come in close contact with patients who are most vulnerable to influenza, such as the elderly. I encourage all New Yorkers older than six months to get their influenza shot as soon as possible."

This influenza season, New York has had 1,820 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza in 54 counties and all boroughs of New York City. During this period, influenza, there have been 612 influenza-related hospitalizations reported, and no reports of pediatric deaths from influenza. Over the last three seasons, there have been 19 pediatric influenza deaths in New York and an average of 11,183 influenza-related hospitalizations each season.

The Regulation for Prevention of Influenza Transmission first went into effect during the 2013-14 influenza season. It requires unvaccinated health care workers in certain facilities regulated by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) to wear surgical or procedure masks during those times when the Commissioner declares that influenza is prevalent in NYS. Amendments to the regulations allow for the removal of masks when health care workers are accompanying patients in the community, providing speech therapy services, or communicating with persons who lip read.

Influenza is a serious illness that can lead to hospitalization or death. Influenza season occurs primarily from October through May, often peaking in February. It is not too late to get vaccinated, and there are ample amounts of the vaccine available. The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended this year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts studies each year to determine how effective the vaccine will be in protecting against influenza-related illness and while the effectiveness can vary from year to year, studies show that the vaccine remains the most effective way to protect public health. Additionally, studies show that the influenza vaccine can make the illness milder in certain cases where an individual was vaccinated but still contracted influenza. NYSDOH recommends that everyone six months of age or older receive an influenza vaccination. The vaccine is especially important for people at high risk for complications from influenza, which includes children under age 2, pregnant women and adults over age 65. People with preexisting conditions such as asthma and heart disease are also at greater risk as are individuals with weakened immune systems due to disease or medications such as chemotherapy or chronic steroid use. Since influenza virus can spread easily through coughing or sneezing, it is also important that family members and people in regular contact with high risk individuals get an influenza vaccine.

Most health insurance plans cover influenza vaccines. Individuals and families without health insurance should check with their county health department to find out if local clinics will be held to provide free or low-cost vaccinations. Those 18 years of age and older may also be able to get their influenza vaccine at a local pharmacy.

For additional information about influenza, including how it is monitored in New York State, visit the Department of Health web page at: