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Flu season: What to know and how to avoid getting sick

The number of flu cases in NYC this season hit 38,322, as of Feb. 24.

Flu season in New York City has been

Flu season in New York City has been particularly nasty during 2017-2018, health officials say. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

New York City has been hit hard this flu season.

The number of new, laboratory-confirmed influenza cases across the state hit record-breaking highs for several consecutive weeks, despite officials’ repeated pleas for people to get the flu shot. The week ending on Feb. 24 was the first decrease in the number of new cases the state has seen in over a month.

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said earlier in February that this flu season has been "particularly bad." 

As of Feb. 24, there were 101,312 confirmed flu cases in the state, 38,322 of which were recorded in New York City, according to the state Department of Health.

Scroll down for more on how this flu season, which runs from October through May, is impacting New Yorkers.

Flu basics

The flu is a highly contagious illness mainly spread from person to person. While it can cause mild or severe illness, it can also be deadly.

There are two common types of flu: Influenza A and Influenza B. Within Influenza A, there are subtypes H1 and H3. Under Influenza B there is Victoria or Yamagata. This season, Influenza A (H3) has been the most commonly contracted illness, health department data shows.

Anyone can get the flu, but young children and older adults are particularly vulnerable.

Flu symptoms include: fever, chills, sore throat, runny or stuff nose, cough, muscle or body aches, headache, tiredness and vomiting or diarrhea, in some cases.

A person who is infected with the flu can be contagious from one day before presenting symptoms to between five and seven days after becoming sick, per the state health department.

If diagnosed quickly, the flu can be treated with antiviral drugs, which can reduce how long and how badly a person will get sick. There is no cure for the flu, which is why health officials urge people to get vaccinated as a preventive measure.

Pediatric flu deaths in New York City

As of Feb. 24, there were five children confirmed to have died from the flu in the state, four of whom lived in New York City, according to city and state health officials. 

A spokesman for the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the agency has only confirmed four pediatric deaths in New York City this season. The state health department did not provide specifics on where the fifth child lived.

During the 2016-2017 flu season, there were eight pediatric flu deaths in the state, six of which occurred in the city, according to officials.

Flu cases in the city

In the week ending on Feb. 24, there were 5,614 new cases of flu recorded in the five boroughs — down from the 7,405 new cases recorded the week before, per the state health department.

The total number of lab-confirmed flu cases in the city this season hit 38,322, as of Feb. 24. Here’s a breakdown by borough:

Queens: 1,555

Bronx: 1,236

Brooklyn: 2,000

Manhattan: 603

Staten Island: 220

Flu cases in New York State

There were 13,703 new confirmed cases across the state, including New York City, in the week ending on Feb. 24, which is a 25 percent decrease from the 18,254 new cases recorded the week before.

This was the first week in over a month that the state saw a decrease in the number of new cases this season. The state health department recorded at least five consecutive weeks of record-breaking highs in the number of new cases since reporting began in 2004.

For the entire flu season so far, there have been 101,312 cases confirmed by state health officials, 38,322 of which were in New York City while 62,990 were recorded in the rest of the state.

State and city actions to fight the flu

Since the flu season can last through May, city and state officials are still urging people to get vaccinated.

The city health department recently teamed up with Walgreens and Duane Reade to provide 1,000 free flu shot vouchers for uninsured or underinsured New Yorkers over 7 years old. The vouchers were made available at 11 locations in neighborhoods with low vaccination rates, officials said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, meanwhile, has extended an executive order that allows pharmacists to give flu shots to minors between the ages of 2 and 18 in order to increase the accessibility of the vaccine to parents and guardians. Since the order was issued on Jan. 25, at least 8,468 minors in that age range have been vaccinated at pharmacies, according to the governor’s office.

Cuomo also directed state Department of Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to authorize additional funding to county health officials so that they can further expand access to the flu shot. 

Flu vaccine accessibility and effectiveness

The flu shot is available to everyone over the age of 6 months old. Parents and guardians of children between 6 months and 2 years old should see a doctor to get their child vaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates vaccine effectiveness against all strains this flu season is at 36 percent, according to the state health department. The flu shot is also 59 percent effective for children between 6 months and 8 years old, per the CDC.

The state health department is closely monitoring the vaccine supply but did not report any significant shortages in its weekly update on Feb. 17.

Tips for avoiding the flu

Aside from getting vaccinated, there are several simple steps people can take to help avoid getting sick.

- Wash your hands often with hot water and soap. Health officials suggest washing your hands for at least 20 seconds to ensure cleanliness.

- Carry (and use) hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol.

- Cover your mouth and/or nose with a tissue instead of your hands when you sneeze or cough.

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