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Flu cases level off in New York state, but remain very high

Flu cases level off in New York state, but remain very high

Total number of cases last week was only exceeded once in last 20 years, state says
Flu cases level off in New York state, but remain very high
Photographer: Shutterstock

CAPITAL REGION -- There was a little bit of good news about seasonal flu in New York state on Thursday, as well as bad news.

The total number of confirmed cases for the week ending Feb. 8 was 17,233, the second-highest in recent state history, state officials said. On the other hand, it also remained nearly the same as the week before, after nearly three months of climbing numbers, with double-digit increases since Jan. 1.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday issued a fresh advisory about the flu season, saying it's been a bad flu season and the number of cases is expected to continue rising.

"As flu season has not yet peaked across New York, I urge everyone to remain vigilant and take simple precautions to protect themselves and their families," Cuomo said in a news release. "I encourage all New Yorkers older than six months to get their flu shot -- it's not too late."

The flu kills thousands of people nationally every year, most of them elderly -- but this week it killed a 28-year-old Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student.

For the week ending Feb. 8, there were 17,233 laboratory-confirmed flu cases reported to the State Department of Health, according to a weekly report. But was barely up from last week, when there were 17,227 confirmed cases.

Cuomo's office said the most lab-confirmed influenza cases reported during a single week in a flu season in the last two decades was 18,252, which was during the third week in February in 2017-18, one of the state's worst recent flu seasons. Last winter the total cases in a week never exceeded 10,000.

"While flu activity is higher than usual this season and it has not yet peaked, taking basic preventive steps such as washing hands often, covering a cough or sneeze with your arm, and staying home when experiencing flu-like symptoms, will help prevent the spread of the flu," said state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.

On Jan. 3, the Department of Health issued a statewide health advisory alerting healthcare providers to the dramatic increase in flu activity across the state. 

So far this season, there have been a total of 106,824 lab-confirmed cases reported in the state this season, with three flu-associated pediatric deaths. Last week, 1,993 New Yorkers were hospitalized with lab-confirmed influenza. So far this season, there have been 15,541 flu-related hospitalizations.

Earlier this week, RPI gaduate student Yeming Shen died from the flu at an off-campus apartment in Troy. Because Shen was from China, there was speculation that he had the novel coronavirus that is devastating parts of that country, but an autopsy confirmed he had seasonal flu.

"An autopsy was completed and the cause of death has been identified as influenza," Richard Crist, Rensselaer County's director of operations, said on Wednesday. "Further testing is expected to be completed in several days. As we stated yesterday, we do not believe there is any risk to the public. Our condolences to the family and friends of the student."

Shen's body was found by his roommate Monday in the off-campus apartment they shared.

Also this week, the Saratoga County Public Health Department took the unusual step of issuing a flu advisory, reminding people of hand-washing and other good hygiene practices that can reduce the potential to catch or spread the seasonal illness.

"The flu season is in full swing and want to remind people to follow good health practices to protect themselves, family members and neighbors from contracting the infuenza virus," said Catherine Duncan, the county's public health services director.

In the Capital Region, Saratoga County says its total confirmed cases dropped from 203 to 146 in the last week, and Schenectady County dropped from 233 to 169. Albany County went up, however, from 196 cases to 214. Montgomery County cases increased from 80 to 96. The numbers are certainly an under count since they only include lab-confirmed cases, and many people with the flu never go to a medical facility.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that flu activity across the country is high, but hospitalizations and deaths from the flu aren't unusually high for this point in the season.

Meanwhile, the CDC said there were 15 confirmed cases in the U.S. of coronavirus, which world health officials this week named COVID-19 virus. The CDC said 13 of the cases were among people who had recently returned from China. The virus is having a damaging impact in China, where it has killed hundreds of people.

Reach staff writer Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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