Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a public health emergency for all of New York on Saturday in response to this year’s severe flu season. According to the Center for Disease Control, New York is one of 41 states with widespread influenza activity, though the Rockville Centre hospitals and school district seem prepared to deal with the virus.
According to Dr. Aaron Glatt, the Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of Mercy Medical Center, the hospital has seen the activity level for the flu that the CDC has described.
“We are doing everything possible to deal with the increased workload, and we have done wonderfully so far,” Glatt, who is also an infectious-disease physician, said. “We have a very active influenza campaign in the hospital to try and make sure all of our employees can get vaccinated and any patients who wish to get vaccinated.”
Glatt said that the severity of the virus fluctuates year by year, though the CDC says that the average number of deaths as a result of the flu is 36,000 a year. He also said that the strain that is spreading throughout the country is actually well matched with the vaccine available.
“People who got the vaccine are more likely not to get the flu, or get a less intense version, but the vaccine is not perfect,” Glatt said. “We’re very equipped to handle and see patients in our express care and we’re more than happy to help the residents of the community.”
According to a press release from Cuomo’s office, the governor issued an executive order which allows pharmacists to administer flu vaccinations to patients between the ages of six months and 18 years, suspending for thirty days a State Education law that limits immunization by pharmacists to those older than 18.
There have been 19,128 cases of influenza reported in New York this season, more than quadruple the total cases reported in 2011-12. The New York State Department of Health has received reports of 2,884 patients hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza, more than double the reported hospitalizations of last year.
“We are experiencing the worst flu season since at least 2009 and influenza activity in New York State is widespread, with cases reported in all 57 counties and all five boroughs of New York City,” Cuomo said. “Therefore, I have directed my administration, the State Health Department and others to marshal all needed resources to address this public health emergency and remove all barriers to ensure that all New Yorkers — children and adults alike — have access to critically needed flu vaccines.”
Tara M. Algerio-Vento, the Rockville Centre school district family nurse practitioner, said that the students have not had flu incidents in any significant amounts and that the cases have been scattered throughout the classes and schools.
“There are the same numbers that we would have consistently because it is winter,” Algerio-Vento said. “We do have some flu-like incidents but nothing that has been causing clusters, which we keep an eye on.”
The school district keeps track of clusters of students who have confirmed cases of the flu, Algerio-Vento explained, to see if the virus is spreading.
Custodians clean the district schools once a day, but once the first case of flu is confirmed, the custodians go around opening windows to aerate the schools and cleaning the desk surfaces and walls with cleaning agents approved by the CDC. Algerio-Vento said that this year, the first confirmed case of the flu among the students and staff was reported in late December, just before Christmas vacation.
She said that if clusters of influenza outbreaks are seen, or if someone is hospitalized with a case of the flu, the district will send out notifications to the parents.
Algerio-Vento also said that the school promotes the importance of flu vaccines in September, and that the entire staff is inoculated to the virus in October. She added that recently cases of the flu have been seen even in the summer, but that the flu season generally begins to slow down around March.
Oceanside and the surrounding communities have seen a spike in influenza cases and influenza-like illnesses, said Dr. Joshua Kugler, Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital and Chairman of the Nassau County Regional Emergency Medical Service Committee.
According to Kugler, influenza like illness share some of the same symptoms as the flu, such as headache, fever and running nose, but they don’t test positive for the influenza virus.
“Both of these are much higher this time of year than they have been in the past decade,” Kugler explained. “There are several reasons and the epidemiologists look back and try to find out why were are seeing it earlier.”
Kugler said that groups of people cohorted, or grouped together inside could make it easier for the virus to spread.
This year’s vaccine for the influenza virus is very effective, Kugler said, adding that the epidemiologists did a good job predicting the types of flue that would be affecting this region.
“It is genetically very appropriate for the flu that we are seeing,” Kugler said. “It’s protecting against two-thirds of the flu or flu-like illnesses. It mitigates the effects, depending on the prior health of the person.”
Kugler added that it is important that more people get vaccinated, because it makes it less likely that the virus will spread throughout the community. He said that if you are 6 months or older and don’t have very specific reasons, like an allergy, you should get a vaccination. Kugler also advised to stay at home when sick, and keep good hygiene in mind.