2010-01-15 / Top Stories

Flu Season Is Not Over

Influenza is still circulating in New York City, and the season is still young, the Health Department recently reminded New Yorkers. The H1N1 virus is likely to persist in the coming months, and seasonal influenza could increase as well, as it often does during the winter months. Fortunately, there is still time to get vaccinated – and vaccines to prevent both types of influenza are widely available.

This reminder comes on the eve of National Influenza Vaccination Week, a nationwide effort sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It also coincides with the publication of a new study by the CDC and the Health Department appearing in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which provides the fullest analysis yet of the first 99 patients hospitalized for H1N1 influenza in New York City last spring.

The report, available at www.cdc.gov/mmwr, summarizes the first hospitalized patients’ demographic and medical features. It finds that more than half (59 percent) of the hospitalized patients were under the age of 18, and 74 percent had one of the known underlying medical conditions that can cause more severe cases of influenza. The most common underlying health condition was asthma, found in 48 percent of hospitalized cases. Obesity was observed in 60 percent of adults and 18 percent of children for whom height and weight were available. The study emphasizes the importance of vaccination for people with these and other risk factors for severe illness or complications from influenza. “The best way to protect yourself or your loved ones from becoming very ill is to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “People in priority groups are at higher risk of hospitalization and death if they get sick. So don’t take the risk – get the vaccine today.”

Last month, the Health Department lifted any remaining restrictions on H1N1 vaccine eligibility, while continuing to target those in high-priority groups. Those groups include pregnant women, anyone between 6 months and 24 years old, and adults with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or immune deficiency. Health care workers and people in close contact with infants are also on the priority list, because of the risk they pose to others when infected themselves. But because H1N1 vaccine is now widely available, the agency has advised health care providers to vaccinate anyone over 6 months of age who wants protection from H1N1 influenza.

Mounting evidence suggests that people who are obese, and especially those who are extremely obese, face increased risk of severe illness or complications from influenza, so the Health Department is urging them to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The H1N1 vaccine is now available from health care providers and at many pharmacies throughout the City. Anyone can find the nearest source of vaccine by using the vaccine locator at nyc.gov/flu. The Health Department is also urging people who have not received the seasonal influenza vaccine to do so now. Seasonal influenza, together with pneumonia, claims more than 1,000 lives in New York City each year. Besides safeguarding people from days or weeks of debilitating sickness, the vaccine can prevent unnecessary school absences, doctor visits and hospitalizations. Anyone over 6 months of age can now get vaccinated against seasonal influenza, but the vaccine is especially important for people in these groups:

•Children between 6 months and 18-years-of-age •Adults 50 and older – especially those over 65

•Pregnant women

•People with chronic health conditions

•People in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

•Health care workers

•Anyone in close daily contact with children under 5 years old – especially those in contact with infants younger than 6 months

•Anyone in close daily contact with people who are over 50 years old or living with chronic health conditions.

For more information about seasonal and H1N1 influenza, visit nyc.gov.

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