ALBANY — With the holidays this week, local officials are growing concerned with the rising trend in cases of respiratory illnesses, including influenza, Respiratory Syncytial Virus and COVID-19.
Last week, the Bethlehem Central School District reminded parents to keep children home and to test for COVID-19 when expressing symptoms. District officials included a list of precautionary measures for residents to follow, including washing hands, sneezing “into your elbow” and staying up-to-date on vaccines.
Cautionary messages started going out from all offices, from local schools to the Centers for Disease Control. Each urging people to get their flu shot.
“Nationally, the last several weeks have shown a spike in the number of cases of respiratory viruses among school-aged children,” shared Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy in an online statement on Wednesday, Dec. 14. “These viruses have included a triple threat of the flu, RSV, and COVID-19. While these diseases can cause various symptoms, the number of cases and their severity can be lessened by getting your child vaccinated.”
The New York State Department of Health noted a new report showing a 64 percent week-over-week jump in lab-confirmed flu cases across New York in the first week of December, and a 58 percent increase in hospitalizations.
“Our message is simple but urgent especially as we approach the holiday season: get vaccinated today,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said. “This year’s vaccine is a very effective match to the currently circulating flu strain, as well as being a safe, widely available, and critically important step in curbing the spread of this highly infectious virus. As the flu can lead to serious health complications or even death, I urge every New Yorker who has not yet been vaccinated to do so as soon as possible to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community.”
The weekly flu report also confirmed one influenza-associated pediatric death in the state. To protect patient privacy, the Department could only confirm the death.
Influenza has been widespread across New York for nine weeks, with lab-confirmed cases in the latest report climbing 64 percent for the week ending December 3 over the previous week, and week-over-week hospitalizations up 58 percent. The Department’s most recent influenza surveillance report also found cases in all of New York’s 62 counties.
The report is available on the Department’s Flu Tracker dashboard on the NYS Health Connector which provides timely information about local, regional and statewide influenza activity. It shows that so far this flu season, there have been a total of 113,345 positive influenza cases in New York.
Nationally, the weekly U.S. surveillance report from the CDC estimates there have been 7,300 deaths across the country so far this season attributed to flu, including 21 pediatric deaths. Additionally, an estimated 120,000 hospitalizations have been due to influenza, a cumulative rate that is higher than during the same time period in every flu season since 2010-2011.
As the holiday season ramps up with gatherings among family and friends and crowded activities, it is especially important to take precautions to protect against the flu, including getting vaccinated and wearing a mask if you are symptomatic or are among populations at heightened risk. Those considered most vulnerable to infection include children under the age of five, pregnant women, older people and those with underlying health conditions, such as a weakened immune system, diabetes, heart and lung disease, and asthma.
The state said that the influenza vaccine is effective in preventing individuals from getting the flu and reducing the risk of severe illness for children and adults if they become infected. Studies compiled by the CDC have found that the vaccine carries a number of important health benefits, especially for those at risk.
According to the CDC’s studies, the vaccine prevents people from getting sick with flu, cutting the risk of having to go to the doctor by 40 to 60 percent. In children, the vaccine reduces the risk of severe, life-threatening influenza by 75 percent; decreases flu-related hospitalizations by 41 percent; and cuts the risk of emergency department visits in half.
Flu vaccination during pregnancy is said to also reduce the risk of hospitalization by an average of 40 percent and protect the baby from flu for several months after birth. For older adults, the CDC said vaccines reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization by about 40 percent. Among those with chronic health conditions, the vaccine is associated with lower rates of some cardiac events, as well as reducing the risk of hospitalization from flu-related worsening of lung diseases and diabetes.
The Department is utilizing a number of tools to increase public knowledge about rising flu rates and the importance of vaccinations as a critical prevention step, including sharing information on social media platforms Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
The flu vaccine is also widely available, found at pharmacies, health clinics, and physician’s offices across the state. To locate a flu vaccine location near you, visit vaccines.gov.