As if January isn’t depressing enough with frigid temperatures and the holidays over, now it’s officially flu season.
The state health commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, has declared the flu widespread in New York State and urges the public to get flu shots if they haven’t already.
“The early reports of flu cases in New York further emphasize the importance of people getting a flu vaccination now,” Shah said. “A flu vaccination is a safe and effective way to reduce your risk for flu and also protect the health of your family and friends.”
Because of the uptick, Shah has ordered health facility workers to wear surgical masks in areas where patients may be present, if they haven’t received a flu vaccine. Their union is suing to stop the practice.
Officials at the city Department of Health said that flu visits to doctors’ offices are up 3 percent over the week and to call 311 or go to nyc.gov/flu to find a place to get vaccinated. All five boroughs report cases.
Many drugstores are also administering the vaccine. There is plenty of serum for this flu season, according to the state DOH. Call your local pharmacy for availability.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, nearly half the states are reporting widespread flu activity. To date, the H1N1 virus, also known as the swine flu that killed so many people in 2009 and 2010, is the predominant strain.
So far, six children have died this flu season. Records for adults are not tracked, but they are believed to be in the dozens.
The DOH estimates up to 3,000 New Yorkers die yearly of flu and pneumonia, often a complication of the flu. Nationally, flu deaths can go as high as 49,000 a year.
The DOH reports that despite the statistics, only 65 percent of city children received a flu shot in the past year, well below the national goal of 80 percent.
Flu season begins in October and peaks in March, though it can run until May, so health officials say there is time to get inoculated. It takes two weeks for the serum to become effective.
Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease that affects the nose, throat, bronchial tubes and lungs. It is easily spread by virus-containing droplets through sneezing and coughing.
Symptoms include the sudden onset of fever, chills, headache and muscle aches plus a cough or sore throat. Similar to cold symptoms, flu symtoms come on more quickly and are worse.
Since the virus strains change yearly, an annual shot is required. It is recommended for people ages 6 months and older.
The CDC recommends taking the following steps to fight the virus: Get the shot; take preventive action to stop the spread of germs; and take flu antiviral drugs from a doctor if you get the flu.
To prevent its spread, avoid close contact with sick individuals and cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Stay home if you have the flu. Wash your hands often and avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth because that’s how germs spread.
Flu shots for high-risk persons are especially important to decrease the risk of severe flu illness and complications, the CDC notes. Such persons include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease, and people 65 and older.
If you get the flu, antiviral drugs prescribed by your doctor in the early stages can make the symptoms milder and shorten the illness.