Flu outbreak felt in Queens as Cuomo declares public health emergency

flu shot
CDC/Photo by Jim Gathany

Two days after Christmas, Diane K. woke up with a bought of the flu. The 66-year-old Bayside resident, who preferred her last name not be used, fought off the viral infection’s high fever and aches over the next few days with Tamiflu and rest. But when it was announced that this season’s flu had reached epidemic proportions, Diane decided she didn’t want to take another chance.

“I’m usually very healthy,” she said. “I don’t get sick, but with the epidemic — I’m the only person I know who hasn’t gotten the flu shot yet.”

Diane called several local pharmacies, many of which had run out of the vaccine in the wake of the epidemic, before running to the Rite Aid on Bell Boulevard for the high-dose version of the shot.

In response to the early and rapid spread of this year’s flu season, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a public health emergency for all of New York State. The governor also issued an executive order which permits pharmacists to administer flu vaccinations to patients between the ages of six months and 18 years of age, suspending for the next 30 days the State Education Law that limits the authority of pharmacists to administer immunizing agents to those older than 18.

So far this season, 19,128 cases of the flu have been reported in New York, over four times the number of cases reported last year. The New York State Department of Health (DOH) stated that as of January 5, 2,884 patients were hospitalized with the flu.

Two children in New York State and 18 children across the United States have died as a result of this year’s seasonal flu.

On January 10, Governor  Cuomo gets a flu shot to encourage all New Yorkers to guard against a bad influenza season. (Photo courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s flickr)

“We are experiencing the worst flu season since at least 2009, and influenza activity in New York State is widespread, with cases reported in all 57 counties and all five boroughs of New York City,” Cuomo said. “Therefore, I have directed my administration, the State Health Department and others to marshal all needed resources to address this public health emergency and remove all barriers to ensure that all New Yorkers — children and adults alike — have access to critically needed flu vaccines.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tested this year’s known influenza viruses against the three viruses included in the 2012-2013 vaccine. To date, all of the influenza A (H1N1) and influenza A (H3N2) viruses that have been tested match the vaccine and approximately 69 percent of the known influenza B viruses match the vaccine.

According to the CDC, the flu has reached epidemic status, causing 7.3 percent of deaths last week. The CDC’s epidemic threshold is marked at 7.2 percent.

Every region of the United States — excluding the Southwest and California — registered a spike in the number of cases of the flu over the past week.

The CDC said that flu-associated deaths each season range from 3,000 people to about 49,000 people. Those at increased risk for serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older.

The CDC cautions those hoping to obtain the flu vaccine that the coveted shot may be difficult to find. Pharmacies have reported an increase in the number of people looking to get vaccinated, and contacting more than one provider may be a necessary part of the search.

A pharmacy staff member at the CVS on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria said they ran out of the flu shot several days ago and had just been restocked today.

“We have them in stock now but now a lot people are coming in to get them,” said the pharmacy staff member, who estimated they would be out of the vaccine again by the end of the day.



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