MAYVILLE - Earlier this week, a Public Health Emergency for all of New York state was declared in response to this year's increasingly severe flu season.
More than 19,000 cases of influenza have been reported in New York State this season, far more than the total of 4,404 positive laboratory tests that were reported all of last season. To date, two children in New York state have died as a result of this year's seasonal influenza.
"To date in Chautauqua County, the Health Department has received reports of 283 cases of influenza, but we know that number is very low because only laboratory confirmed cases are reported to local health departments," said Christine Schuyler, Director of Health & Human Services. "Many health care providers do influenza rapid testing in their practices and are not obligated to report those cases to local or state health departments and from what we're hearing from local providers, this flu season is proving to be one of the most severe we've seen," added Schuyler.
Individuals who have flu-like symptoms like a fever, cough, or sore throat, should call their doctor first before heading to the hospital.
"Hospitals locally are experiencing the same rush of influenza-like illness as those statewide so those with mild symptoms are advised to not go to the emergency room unless your doctor advises you to," said Schuyler.
She added that last year's flu season (2011-2012) started rather late and was unusually mild with only 32 lab confirmed cases reported in the County. In comparison, 2010-2011 was a more typical season with 337 cases reported.
Because flu often continues into late winter or early spring, vaccinations at this time of year offer important protection. Everyone six months of age or older should receive a flu vaccination. Those under six months of age cannot get a flu vaccination. Flu vaccinations are available at primary care doctor's office, many local pharmacies or the Chautauqua County Health Department (call 1-866-604-6789). New Yorkers can find a local vaccine provider by visiting flushot.healthmap.org/ and entering their zip code. New Yorkers without Internet access can call 1-800-522-5006 or through TTY access at 1-800-655-1789 to find a nearby provider.
Symptoms of influenza resemble those of a cold, but come on swiftly and are more pronounced. A person who has the flu usually has a fever, chills, a severe headache, and muscle aches, as well as a cough or sore throat. Although most people will usually recover from flu without complications, the virus poses a more serious risk for individuals younger than age two, those over 50, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions.
Since the flu virus can spread through coughing or sneezing, it is important that family members and people who regularly come in contact with young children or individuals at high risk get immunized. In addition, all health care workers should be vaccinated against influenza and other communicable diseases to protect their health and the health of their patients.
The Chautauqua County Department of Health reminds everyone of important measures to take to reduce their chances of getting and spreading the flu and other infectious respiratory illnesses:
Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of your elbow, not your hands. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
Wash your hands often with soap and water especially after blowing your nose or coughing, using the bathroom, before and after eating and after being in contact with someone who is ill. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you aren't near a sink.
Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
Stay home when you are sick
For more information about influenza, including statewide surveillance, visit the State Health Department website at: www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza/seasonal/.