CAPITAL REGION — Flu cases continued to climb across New York state last week and hit the highest level since 2004, though hospitalizations dropped for the second consecutive week, the state Department of Health reported Thursday.
There were 18,258 laboratory-confirmed cases for the week ending Feb. 17, which officials said was a nine percent increase over the previous week, and the 11th consecutive week of statewide widespread flu activity.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday extended an emergency order he issued in January that allows pharmacists to administer flu vaccine to children ages 2 to 18, citing the need for people who aren't yet vaccinated to get the shot.
"As this flu epidemic continues, I again urge New Yorkers to take every precaution to fight this virus and protect themselves and their loved ones," Cuomo said. "We will continue to ensure availability and affordability of the flu vaccine, and I encourage all New Yorkers to take advantage of the expanded access and get vaccinated."
The flu season typically lasts into March. Last week, Cuomo said he will seek funding to reimburse county health departments for half the cost of any additional flu vaccine clinics or other flu prevention measures they are taking. He has also proposed making the authorization for pharmacists to vaccinate minors permanent, though that will require legislation.
The entire nation continues to experience what is being described as one of the first flu seasons in a decade or longer. Since the official Health Department number only includes laboratory-confirmed cases, the actual number of flu cases is believed to be higher.
Despite the increased number of diagnoses, the Health Department said hospitalizations dropped 13 percent, to 2,160. The number of cases dropped three percent the prior week, for the first time in two months, though the total cases continued to rise.
"Even though fewer New Yorkers were hospitalized with influenza last week, New Yorkers must continue to be vigilant," said state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.
Hamilton County, in the heart of the Adirondacks and with the smallest population in the state, was the only county to report no new flu cases last week, according to the Health Department. Other than that county, flu is considered widespread across the state.
Among Capital Region counties, Albany and Rensselaer saw the number of diagnosed cases decrease last week, but Saratoga, Schoharie and Schenectady saw more people diagnosed.
The federal Centers for Disease Control, in its most recent update on the flu season last Friday, reported that flu remains widespread across the country.
"Unfortunately, it looks like this flu season continues to be particularly challenging," Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting CDC directorr, said during a conference call last Friday. "Our latest tracking data indicate that influenza activity is still on the rise overall. In fact, we may be on track to beat some recent records."
Officials say the most effective common way to prevent the flu from spreading is by washing hands with soap and hot water.
"Prevention remains the best way to stop the spread of the flu, so get vaccinated if you haven't already, stay home if you are sick, and be sure to practice good hand hygiene," Zucker said in a prepared statement.
Flu cases in the Capital Region
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