New York’s governor declared a state health emergency Saturday because of a flu epidemic that has sickened more than 19,000 people, giving pharmacists the right to immunize infants and children in hopes of curbing the spread of the potentially lethal virus.
Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order, pharmacists for at least the next 30 days will be able to give flu shots to children as young as 6 months, a break from state law that usually limits them to immunizing those 18 years and older. Cuomo said the change was crucial given the nationwide flu epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, there have been at least 28,747 cases of flu reported so far this season nationwide, and 20 deaths of children from the flu.
In New York state, 19,128 cases have been confirmed, compared to 4,404 for the previous 2011-12 flu season. The true national and state numbers are far higher, though, because many people who become ill do not go to doctors to get tested for the illness.
“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 in a statement. So far, two children in New York state and at least 10 residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities in New York City have died from influenza.
According to the CDC, this year’s flu season began early and already has resulted in 47 states reporting “widespread” influenza activity. The season generally lasts through March.
Boston’s mayor declared a health emergency in his city on Wednesday after health officials confirmed 700 cases of flu there. Mayor Thomas Menino said the number was 10 times the total number of flu cases last year and that efforts to fight the epidemic would include free vaccinations this weekend.
In New York state 2,884 people diagnosed with the flu have been hospitalized so far this season. According to New York’s state Department of Health, the number of people admitted to hospitals with confirmed diagnoses of influenza for the one-week period ending Jan. 5 was 1,120, a 55% jump over the previous week.
A breakdown of flu cases showed that most of those stricken were between the ages of 18 and 49, but seniors 65 and up accounted for the largest percentage of people requiring hospitalization from the flu.