As flu season continues to rage across the five boroughs, the city’s top doctor put out an urgent call for New Yorkers to get vaccinated.
“This year is particularly bad,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett told reporters at a Tuesday afternoon briefing. “This particular virus, H3N2, is a wily virus . . . I want to remind New Yorkers again there is still time to get a flu shot.”
Flu season runs from October through May, but Bassett says there has been an early surge this year in the city and across the country. About 6.5 percent of emergency room visits since October can be attributed to the flu and flu-like illness — the highest number in four years.
Two city children have died from the flu so far this season. Bassett said due to privacy issues she could not reveal whether they had been vaccinated, or if they had other health issues.
“In general, not speaking to these individual cases, we see very few children who have fatal flu that have been vaccinated,” she said. “The majority are not vaccinated.”
The number of adult fatalities from the flu this season was not yet available, she said. But in 2015, the most recent year available, 2,094 New Yorkers died from influenza and pneumonia, she said.
There has been some good news. The city Health Department said the number of young people under the age of 19 getting a flu shot was up 35 percent in January 2018 compared to January 2017. That increase was even higher in adults where 164 percent more vaccinations were given in January of this year compared to last year. But officials said the increase could also be due in part to more sites reporting vaccinations.
“It’s very important to remind New Yorkers that the flu is not the sniffles and a cough,” Bassett said. “There are many people who die of influenza-related illnesses and we lose more people to influenza and pneumonia every year than any other infection.”
At least 13,200 flu cases have been confirmed in New York City since the start of the season, per the state health department. Across the entire state, there are at least 36,814 laboratory confirmed cases and 9,377 hospitalizations.
Bassett held Tuesday’s briefing at the city Health Department’s office in Long Island City along with Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Lorelei Salas and City Councilman Mark Levine, who chairs the Health Committee.
All three encouraged New Yorkers who are sick with the flu or flu-like symptoms to stay home, noting they are likely covered by sick leave as required by the city’s Paid Sick Leave Law.
Children and adults can get flu shots at a number of sites including city hospitals and clinics. To find a location in New York City, people can call 311, text “flu” to 877877 or go to nyc.gov/flu.