You’ve been hearing warnings to get your flu shot for months, and now it’s easy to see why: influenza season has hit its apex. And while it’s set to be the worst one the nation has been in a decade, New York State residents seem to be faring particularly badly this year.
On a national scale, the number of people who have come down with the flu this year is reaching worrying heights, and the hospitalization rate associated with influenza just spiked. In the average year, around 200,000 Americans are hospitalized due to flu complications. But this flu year’s rates are on track to break even or even surpass the record rates from 2014-2015, when 710,000 Americans were hospitalized due to flu-related health complications. During that period, approximately 34 million Americans came down with the virus and nearly 56,000 died as a result. As of January 22, 30 children have died from the flu this year.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has, understandably, already described this flu season as an “epidemic.” While the average cost of one day spent in a U.S. hospital in 2013 was $4,293, the high costs represent only a portion of the concern for many Americans — especially for those living in the Empire State. New York State was hit extremely hard this flu season. From October through mid-January, the state confirmed 17,362 cases of influenza (which doesn’t reflect the total number of cases, since many people recover without ever being officially tested). And in just one week, the state saw a 54% increase in confirmed flu cases. In fact, that represented the single worst week for flu hospitalizations since the state started tracking those numbers back in 2004. All told, more than 1,600 patients were admitted to hospitals during that short period of time.
What’s worse, reports have speculated that this year’s flu shot wasn’t nearly as effective, meaning that people who took the time to get their recommended shot may not be as well-protected as they thought. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has asked the CDC for assistance in creating a “domestic flu surveillance team” for the state to track data and identify flu strains. And in an effort to curb flu deaths in young people, Governor Cuomo just signed an executive order that allows New York State pharmacists to administer the vaccine to children ages two to 18. Formerly, pharmacists were not given the authority to do so for minors.
Influenza is responsible for 200 million days of reduced productivity and 75 million days of work absence, according to a National Health Interview Survey. But a case of the flu means more than missed work or school. Left untreated, it could have major consequences. If you suspect you may be experiencing flu-like symptoms, you should contact your doctor immediately to obtain a prescription for Tamiflu. This treatment must be administered within two days of symptom onset, so it’s vital not to wait it out. Keep in mind that flu symptoms can include fever, chills, coughing, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, body aches, headaches, diarrhea, and vomiting. If you have not yet been vaccinated, experts recommend you do so right away, despite the fact that flu season is well underway.
In a statement, state health commissioner Howard Zucker stressed: “Influenza is a potentially deadly disease, and getting vaccinated is the best thing New Yorkers can do to protect themselves and those around them.”