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January 17, 2013

Cuomo declares flu a health emergency

The severity of this year’s flu season prompted Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to declare a public health emergency for New York state on Saturday, clearing the way for vaccinations to reach children more easily.

Cuomo’s emergency declaration comes as the state Health Department reports that the number of patients admitted to hospitals statewide continues to rise with a 55 percent increase in the last week.

Locally, flu rates are higher than normal, although not among the highest in the state. Chenango County recently reported 220 confirmed cases of flu this season, with no fatalities, compared with 30 for the 2011-12 season.

The executive order signed by Cuomo on Saturday permits pharmacists to administer flu vaccinations to patients between 6 months and 18 years of age, suspending a section of State Education Law that would normally limit the authority of pharmacists to administer immunizing agents to individuals 18 years of age or older.

In declaring the health emergency, the governor cited the worst season for influenza in at least four years with all 57 counties statewide and all five boroughs of New York City counting among the 19,128 cases reported so far. That’s more than four times the 4,404 positive laboratory tests reported during last year’s flu season.

A promotional campaign to encourage anyone who has not gotten a flu shot to get one would be carried out, along with the message that it is not too late to get a shot, the governor said in a release.

Health professionals say the vaccine will prevent about 62 percent of the people who get it from getting the flu while the rest will have a milder case of it. A vaccine takes two weeks to fully kick in.

Local health officials told The Daily Star that it’s not too late to receive a vaccine. Flu season typically extends into late March.

People can decrease their odds of getting the flu by washing their hands frequently and avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth. Because viruses can be spread by the hands as well as the air, health professionals recommend coughing into an elbow rather than the hand and staying home to treat the flu rather than going to work and spreading the illness.

For information on vaccination, in Otsego County, contact the health departments at 547-4230.

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