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Officials urge New York residents to get vaccinated as flu epidemic continues

The flu vaccine is available at West Hempstead

The flu vaccine is available at West Hempstead Pharmacy, Thursday, Feb 1, 2018. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

This year’s fierce flu epidemic continues to surge statewide, and for the second week running Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has urged anyone who is still unvaccinated to get immunized against the respiratory infection.

Since last week, there has been a 21 percent jump in the number of hospitalizations for the flu in New York and a 50 percent increase in the number of influenza cases confirmed by Wadsworth Center, the state health department’s laboratory in Albany.

The state counted 2,221 new hospitalizations for the flu last week and 11,683 laboratory confirmed influenza cases reported to the New York State Department of Health. Both numbers are the highest weekly totals in each category since reporting began in 2004.

As alarming as those numbers are, they barely capture the magnitude of the sweeping epidemic, doctors say, because most people self-treat influenza and their illnesses are not counted in the weekly surge of lab-confirmed cases.

“Flu season is in full-swing, and as the number of influenza cases and hospitalizations continue to rise at alarming levels, we must take every action to protect ourselves and our loved ones,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say this flu season is the worst since the swine flu scare in 2009.

Despite reports of shortages of vaccines and antiviral medications in some parts of the country, local, state, and federal health officials on Thursday confirmed to Newsday that no such shortages have been identified in New York.

“We have not been getting calls that people have been unable to get vaccinated,” said Mary Ellen Laurain, spokeswoman for the Nassau County Department of Health.

Likewise, no shortage of oseltamivir, sold as Tamiflu, has been pinpointed, health officials and manufacturers confirmed. The antiviral medication is recommended as an effective flu fighter when taken within 48 hours of the first signs of infection. The drug comes in pill and liquid form.

“We are shipping the product,” said a spokeswoman for New Jersey-based Alvogen Inc., an oseltamivir maker.

Health care providers have been urging steps for flu prevention, such as frequent hand-washing, using hand sanitizers — and spatial distancing. That means staying at least three feet away from people while in conversation to prevent viral spread.

Nassau Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein has urged vaccination for weeks.

“Even though the effectiveness of the flu vaccine can vary from year to year, vaccinated individuals who contract the illness will usually have a milder course and are less likely to be hospitalized or die from flu-related complications,” Eisenstein said.