CAPITAL REGION — Confirmed cases of the flu in New York state shot up 35 percent last week, prompting Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday to authorize emergency financial assistance to counties fighting the flu.
There were 15,753 cases confirmed by lab testing for the week ending Feb. 3, according to the state Department of Health — a worsening of what regionally and nationally appears to be the worst flu season in a decade or more. To date, there have been 52,567 cases for the season, and flu has been considered widespread for the last nine weeks.
There were 2,349 hospitalizations statewide last week, up 2 percent from 2,221 cases the week before.
There were two pediatric deaths reported last week, bringing the total in the state for the season to three. The Health Department does not keep track of adult flu deaths, though flu and its complications kills thousands of adults nationally each year.
"As flu diagnoses and hospitalizations continue to increase to epidemic proportions, this administration is doing everything in its power to protect New Yorkers from this especially durable strain of influenza," Cuomo said in a prepared statement. "I ask all New Yorkers to take advantage of this expanded access to flu vaccines and join us in slowing down and stopping the spread of this virus in the Empire State."
Cuomo did not say how much financial assistance would be offered to local health departments, but urged them to reach people who haven't yet gotten a flu shot, and to reach out to places like daycare centers, nursing homes, senior centers and homeless shelters where flu can be spread, and work with local school districts that may be seeing higher numbers of flu absences.
"From getting the flu shot to hand-washing to covering their mouth when they cough, everyone can help prevent flu," said Dr. Howard Zucker, the state's health commissioner.
State Health Department spokeswoman Jill Montag said counties are provided a base grant for public health services including immunization, communicable disease and public health emergency preparedness and are reimbursed 36 percent for any costs above that. Under the governor's order, if counties spend above their budgeted amounts for flu-related activities, they will be reimbursement 50 percent of those costs.
The most prominent strain of flu this year has been Type A, which includes the virulent H3N2 strain, though types B and C are also present.
The federal Centers for Disease Control said last week that in terms of hospitalizations, this is the worst flu season since current record keeping began in 2004, and that while activity is starting to decline in the West, it is still increasing in the eastern United States.
"We also continue to hear reports of crowded hospitals and spot shortages of antiviral medications and rapid influenza tests. Unfortunately, our latest tracking data indicate that the flu activity is still high and widespread across most of the nation. and increasing overall," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC.
Cuomo said vaccine is expected to remain available in New York.
By the numbers
The Health Department's weekly report shows that flu is widespread in every county in the state.
Week of Feb. 3 and season to date
- Albany County: 158; 782
- Fulton County: 37; 150
- Montgomery County: 44; 168
- Rensselaer County:: 92; 419
- Saratoga County: 198; 979
- Schenectady County: 284; 818
- Schoharie County: 21; 58