CAPITAL REGION — While international attention is being focused on the outbreak of the new coronavirus in China, New Yorkers remain far more likely to become bedridden due to seasonal influenza viruses.
More than 15,000 New Yorkers were diagnosed with lab-confirmed flu cases in the week ending Jan. 24, according to the state Health Department — an 11 percent increase from the week before, but a percentage increase half the size of the increase the previous week.
More than half the cases were in New York City, but Capital Region counties saw the total number of cases jump from 480 the previous week to 596. The true number of cases is much higher, since the state only counts lab-confirmed cases, and many people with the flu don’t go to a doctor.
It’s a level of flu activity above what was seen at any point in the winter of 2018-2019, and a level more similar to two years ago, which was the worst flu season in a decade. If history is a guide, cases are likely to continue rising for several more weeks. One of this year’s viruses is more likely to hit children and young adults, and one Capital Region elementary school — Rosendale in Niskayuna — closed last Friday because so many children were ill.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday issued the latest of several updates he has issued on the state’s preparation for coronavirus, but he also advised the state’s residents of the ongoing risk for seasonal flu.
“New York does not have one single confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, but we are taking every necessary precaution to protect against its spread into our state. We have been here before, and I want to remind New Yorkers that it is much more likely that they will be exposed to the influenza virus than to the coronavirus,” Cuomo said. “I am urging New Yorkers to take basic precautions against the flu, such as regular hand washing and avoiding close contact with people who are sick. These measures will also help people avoid coming in contact with the novel coronavirus.”
The governor reported that 11 New York residents have been tested for the coronavirus; so far, none of the tests have been positive.
Last week, on the other hand, 2,015 New Yorkers were hospitalized with lab-confirmed influenza, up 8 percent from the previous week. This season there have been 11,539 flu-related hospitalizations.
On Jan. 3, the state Department of Health issued an advisory alerting healthcare providers to the dramatic increase in flu activity across the state. The advisory also encourages providers to promote the effectiveness of patients getting vaccinated to help prevent the spread of influenza.
The federal Centers for Disease Control in its weekly surveillance report released Friday said flu cases remain at a high level across the country, but the severity of cases is about normal. The CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 19 million flu illnesses, 180,000 hospitalizations and 10,000 deaths — most of them among the elderly. Still, 68 children have died from the flu, including three in New York state.
Both the CDC and the state Health Department recommends that everyone 6 months old or older gets the flu shot, but especially children, pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions, and those over age 65. Good hygiene habits like frequent hand washing are also helpful.