The New York State Health Commissioner declared the influenza prevalent in our state on December 5, 2019. That set in motion a state regulation that requires healthcare workers who are not vaccinated against the flu to wear surgical masks in areas where patients are typically present. This is why you may see some hospital employees wearing masks and some not. Once the commissioner declares the flu no longer prevalent or widespread, masks are not needed. The regulation also requires hospitals to maintain records documenting the influenza vaccination status of all personnel for the current flu season.
But the resounding message of this declaration is that everyone who has not yet received their flu vaccine should do so immediately.
People often think of the flu as a non-threatening viral infection, but for the elderly, pregnant women, children younger than 2 years old, and anyone with a compromised immune system, there can be drastic complications. These include pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus infections. Those who have a chronic illness could experience a worsening of their chronic disease problems. This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine.
During the 2017 – 2018 flu season, the most recent one for which CDC has statistics, the agency estimates that influenza was associated with 45 million illnesses, 21 million medical visits, 810,000 hospitalizations, and 61,000 deaths. It says this burden was higher than any other season since the 2009 swine flu pandemic. It further estimates that the flu vaccine during that season prevented 6.2 million illnesses, 3.2 million medical visits, 91,000 hospitalizations and 5,700 deaths associated with the flu.
There is no question that flu vaccination saves lives, healthcare dollars, and prevents misery among those who contract the flu and suffer its symptomatic consequences throughout the duration of the infection. Everyone should get vaccinated. And even though we are well into the 2019 -2020 flu season, vaccination still makes sense. Although the effectiveness of the vaccine can vary, some protection is better than no protection.
During the week ending December 21, 2019, there were 5,301 laboratory-confirmed influenza reports, a 62 percent increase over the prior week.
Contact your local hospital for information about their flu vaccine clinics and other convenient ways for community members to get their flu shot. Local pharmacies and your primary care physician also administer the flu vaccine. Most insurance plans cover the cost of flu vaccine and most providers are willing to work with those who are poor and/or uninsured.
Hospitals’ Number One Goal
During the flu season, hospitals’ priority is to protect patients, employees, and visitors by adhering to strict infection control practices and prevention guidelines. As a matter of standard practice, all Long Island and Hudson Valley hospitals enforce universally-recognized precautions to prevent the flu. These include hand washing, the use of hand sanitizers placed conveniently throughout the hospital, as well as goggles and gowns. In addition, all hospitals adhere to rigorous infection control guidelines and policies every day to ensure a clean environment for patients, staff, and visitors. These practices are especially important during flu season. Antiseptic wipes are located in patient rooms, work stations, hallways, and other treatment areas and are easily accessible to hospital employees responsible for sanitizing medical equipment and surface areas.