CAPITAL REGION — The flu continued to spread across the nation, state and Capital Region last week, in what authorities say is the worst flu season in more than a decade — and it's expected to get worse.
The latest numbers from the state Health Department show there were 11,683 laboratory-confirmed cases statewide, up 50 percent from the week before, with cases reported in every county. There were 2,221 people sick enough to require hospitalization.
These numbers are the highest weekly statistics in both categories since the state began collecting the data, n in 2004. The most recent figures exceed last week's record high 7,779 confirmed cases and 1,759 hospitalizations. Many experts think the numbers will continue to climb for a few more weeks.
"We follow our numbers closely, and we are seeing higher numbers than last year, but we also feel we haven't seen our highest number," said Cathi Duncan, Saratoga County's public health director.
Saratoga County had 266 confirmed cases in the week ending Jan. 27, whereas it had just 485 cases for the entire quarter from January to March of 2017, Duncan said.
Ellis Hospital in Schenectady was admitting three or four patients a day with flu symptoms over the past week, which is more admissions than last year, said spokesman Philip Schwartz.
"Our emergency department has been busy, and that's due to the flu," Schwartz said on Friday. "This is definitely a tougher flu season than last year."
Schwartz said total flu cases being seen at Ellis Medicine, which includes the hospital and its emergent care clinics, peaked about two weeks ago.
"Our primary care practices are busy, along with the emergency department and our Clifton Park emergent care center, but we still have capacity and are able to handle the increased patient volumes that have come with this flu season," he said in an emailed statement.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that the season is likely to get worse across the country, too. The CDC reported an additional 16 flu deaths among children last week, bringing the nationwide total this year for youngsters to 53.
"Unfortunately, our latest tracking data indicate flu activity is still high and widespread," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC, during a conference call on Friday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who last week signed an executive order allowing pharmacists to administer more flu shots, is urging people to get vaccinated, if they haven't been already.
"Flu season is in full-swing, and as the number of influenza cases and hospitalizations continue to rise at alarming levels, we must take every action to protect ourselves and our loved ones," Cuomo said in a prepared statement. "I am urging everyone to get vaccinated and take other necessary steps to stop the spread of this virus in New York."
For the past eight weeks, influenza has been geographically widespread across New York, Cuomo said. As of Jan. 27, 36,814 laboratory-confirmed cases have been reported, 9,377 people have been hospitalized with influenza and there has been one pediatric flu-related death in the state this season; there were four pediatric deaths as of this time last year.
Duncan noted that the statistics only count those who have been to a doctor and gotten tested, so the true number of flu cases is higher.
"We've been climbing," she said. "Each week is getting higher."
Duncan said the vaccination is worth getting, despite questions about its effectiveness this year.
"People are getting sick even with the flu shot, but people who have had the flu shot don't seem to have as bad symptoms," Duncan said. "Even if you've had the flu and you have not had the shot, you should get the shot, because you could have had one strain and you will be protected against another strain."
"My parting words are, stay home if you get the flu," Duncan said.
Schenectady County had 219 confirmed cases last week and has had 534 for the winter, according to the state Health Department.
"We know anecdotally that flu is here, that is is widespread and that is seems to be more widespread than it has been in the past," county spokesman Joe McQueen said.
In Montgomery County, public health officials said the number of cases being reported is up about 60 percent from last year, with about 95 cases reported during the month of January.
"What we are seeing at this point is patients presenting with flu-like symptoms more frequently," said Sara Boerenko, the county's public health director.
The county nursing staff is attending public events to promote vaccinations, hand-washing and wearing surgical masks if you're sick or around people with symptoms.
"The number one thing people can do for themselves to prevent the spread of the flu is to wash their hands frequently, stay home if they are sick and try to limit exposure to others who are symptomatic," said Montgomery County public health nurse Suzanne Skelton.
Hospitals and other health care facilities across the region have put restrictions on visitors to prevent the spread of the flu. Those restrictions include advising anyone with respiratory or flu-like illnesses to stay away, a ban on children 12 and younger from patient care areas, and a recommendation that all visitors use hand-sanitzers after visiting patients.
"They're temporary, so as soon as flu is declared by New York State not to be prevalent, we release those restrictions," said Schwartz, at Ellis Hospital.
Tips to stay healthy
In addition to getting a flu shot and staying home when sick, it's important to practice good hand-hygiene:
- Unlike some viruses, influenza is easily killed by soap and hot water.
- Wash your hands often with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds to protect yourself from germs and avoid spreading them to others.
- Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to use when soap and water are not available. Choose a product with at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Do not cough or sneeze into your hands. Instead, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. People with the flu are infectious for up to 7 days after symptoms begin
SOURCE: NYS Department of Health