CAPITAL REGION — The bad flu season is getting worse, and even churches aren’t immune.
New statewide figures released Friday show there were 7,779 laboratory-confirmed flu cases during the week that ended Jan. 20, up 28 percent from the previous work and nearly double the number of cases during the comparable week a year ago. It was the seventh consecutive week of “widespread” flu activity in New York.
The state Health Department reported that 1,759 people were hospitalized during the week, again roughly double the 881 people who were hospitalized during the same week a year ago. There’s been one child death from the flu, compared to four at this time last year.
Both the number of diagnoses and hospitalizations are the most in a week since the state began weekly tracking in 2004, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.
In the Buffalo area, the Roman Catholic diocese has issued special guidelines to limit physical contact during communion and other church service activities, and other dioceses around the country have begun taking similar actions.
The Albany Diocese isn’t making any official changes, but is advising parishioners to be cautious.
“While we are not issuing any official guidelines for Catholics during flu season, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany encourages parishioners attending Mass to use common sense when it comes to shaking hands at the Sign of Peace or receiving from the cup during Communion,” said diocese spokeswoman Mary DeTurris Poust. “If you are feeling ill, it is completely within reason, and perhaps even recommended, to simply bow to your neighbor during the Sign of Peace and to receive only the sacred host at Holy Communion, thereby avoiding the shared cup.”
The flu is widespread across the state, with every county in the state except Lewis showing it has greater than 10 cases per 100,000 population.
The Centers for Disease Control reported that the number of states with widespread flu activity rose from 26 to 32 during the week ending Jan. 13, and that some indicators pointed two the national flu season being as bad as the “severe” flu season of 2014-2015, and the most widespread since 2004.
“It’s been a tough flu season so far,” says Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the influenza division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told National Public Radio. “Flu is still happening all over the United States.”
In reaction to the severe outbreak, Cuomo on Thursday issued an executive order that allows pharmacists to administer flu vaccines to children ages 2 to 18.
“With flu cases reaching epidemic proportions in New York, we must do everything in our power to fight this virus and keep New Yorkers safe,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Once again, I urge all New Yorkers to help us combat this quick-spreading strain of flu and make sure they and their loved ones are vaccinated.”
Authorities say it’s not too late to get vaccinated, and will continue urging anyone who hasn’t had a shot to get vaccinated. The Health Department will be expanding its public-service advertising campaign. Subscribers to the state’s text alert system will also get vaccination messages.
There have been reports that this year’s vaccine isn’t as effective is in some other years. The CDC has no official rating of this year’s vaccine’s effectiveness, but it says it appears to be about 32 percent effective against the dominant H3N2 virus strain — about the same effectiveness as last year.
Among medical experts’ recommendations is that people suspecting signs of flu seek anti-viral drug treatments, which are most effective when administered within 48 hours of when symptoms appear.
The state Health Department said there are no current shortages of vaccines or anti-viral drugs, and that manufacturers say they expect to be able to meet projected season demand.
The state also recommends frequent hand-washing. The flu virus, unlike some viruses, is easily killed with soap and hot water, a Health Department statement said.
Capital Region hospitals in December implemented guidelines to reduce flu risk, including allowing a maximum of two visitors in a patient’s room at one; a prohibition on children age 12 and under visiting patient rooms; and a prohibition on people with symptoms like rash, diarrhea of respiratory illnesses visiting patients. Visitors are urged to use hand-washing stations before entering and upon leaving patient rooms.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.
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