Saratoga County

Flu already a problem in four area counties

With the number of flu cases rising both locally and across New York, the state Health Department ha

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With the number of flu cases rising both locally and across New York, the state Health Department has declared influenza “prevalent” in New York state.

Cases of the illness, which is usually most severe as winter wears on, have already been reported in 26 counties, including the most populated in the Capital Region. Often, the flu season doesn’t peak before February.

The number of confirmed cases doubled statewide in a single week, from 200 to 400 the week of Nov. 29, according to the Health Department. The number is slightly ahead of last year, but far below the early and severe flu season of 2012-2013.

Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties have all already had cases reported for several weeks; Montgomery County had its first reported case the week of Nov. 29, the last week for which information is available.

Fulton and Schoharie counties have yet to report activity during this flu season, according to state Health Department reports.

The state’s reports, however, are limited to cases of flu confirmed by laboratory testing — and the chances are that many cases go unreported.

The federal Centers for Disease Control list New York among states with “local” activity, meaning flu is less prevalent than in states with “regional” or “widespread” activity.

The flu is already considered widespread in some states, including Maryland, North Carolina, Florida and Illinois. Eastern New England and the deep South also have higher rates than New York currently does.

Nationally, the CDC says influenza activity is low, but officials are warning that early data suggests this could be a severe season.

“It’s too early to say for sure that this will be a severe flu season, but Americans should be prepared,” said CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden in a statement last week. “We can save lives with a three-pronged effort to fight the flu: vaccination, prompt treatment for people at high risk of complications and preventive health measures, such as staying home when you’re sick, to reduce flu spread.”

The declaration issued Thursday by acting state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker means health care workers who are not vaccinated must now wear masks in areas where patients are typically present.

Zucker strongly encourages people to get a flu shot.

“Flu shots are a safe and effective way to reduce your risk for infection during flu season and I urge all New Yorkers to get one,” Zucker said. “Unfortunately, not all health care workers choose to get vaccinated. By requiring those who are not vaccinated to wear masks while around patients, we’re doing all we can to protect the most vulnerable, like the sick and the elderly.”

A regulation adopted in 2013 allows the state to require unvaccinated health care workers to wear masks.

The state says health care personnel are at increased risk of acquiring influenza because of their contact with ill patients, and workers who are ill can also transmit it.

While this year’s vaccine is not well matched against one of the types of flu viruses (H3N2) circulating this season, Zucker said it still provides protection against several of the viruses that are spreading this year. It may also reduce severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death for those who do fall ill, the Health Department said in a statement.

DOH recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older receive a flu vaccination.

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