It’s that time of year — flu season

Hospitals in Gloversville and Amsterdam have joined with hospitals throughout the Capital Region in procedures to prevent the spread of influenza now that state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker has declared the flu prevalent statewide.

The restrictions consist of the following:

∫ A maximum of two visitors will be permitted in a patient’s room at any one time.

∫ Children 12 and under will be prohibited from visiting patients’ rooms, as they are more likely to have and transmit respiratory infections.

∫ Visitors with rash, diarrhea or respiratory symptoms will be prohibited from visiting patients. These symptoms include fever, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath.

“This is a sensible way to prevent the spread of the flu,” said Jerri Cortese, director of communications and public relations at St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam.

“We’re trying to be proactive.”

The hospitals also are urging all visitors to use handwashing stations before entering and upon leaving a patient’s room. Hand sanitizers are available at many hospital entrances and at other locations throughout these hospitals, including the doorways of many patient rooms.

Some hospitals have special care units or physical layouts that may have additional visitation restrictions or modifications.

Hospital officials advise that it is still important to get the flu vaccine, as it offers protection against flu circulating strains and will reduce the likelihood of severe illness.

The same guidelines just announced were developed and temporarily implemented in previous years to address influenza outbreaks. These temporary restrictions are intended to help limit the transmission of the virus and protect the health and safety of patients and the professionals who provide their care during the outbreak.

The state’s announcement puts into effect a regulation requiring that health care workers who are not vaccinated against influenza wear surgical or procedure masks in areas where patients are typically present.

“Vaccination is the best way to protect against influenza and is especially important for health care workers,” said Zucker in a news release.

“Health care personnel are routinely exposed to sick patients and come in close contact with patients who are most vulnerable to influenza, such as the elderly. I encourage all New Yorkers older than 6 months to get their influenza shot as soon as possible.”

This influenza season, New York has had 1,820 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza in 54 counties and all boroughs of New York City. During this period, influenza, 612 influenza-related hospitalizations were reported, but no reports of pediatric deaths from influenza. Over the last three seasons, there have been 19 pediatric influenza deaths in New York and an average of 11,183 influenza-related hospitalizations each season.

The Regulation for Prevention of Influenza Transmission first went into effect during the 2013-14 influenza season. It requires unvaccinated health care workers in certain facilities regulated by the state Department of Health to wear surgical or procedure masks during those times when the commissioner declares that influenza is prevalent in New York. Amendments to the regulations allow for the removal of masks when health care workers are accompanying patients in the community, providing speech therapy services, or communicating with persons who lip read.

Influenza is a serious illness that can lead to hospitalization or death. Influenza season occurs primarily from October through May, often peaking in February. It is not too late to get vaccinated, and there are reportedly ample amounts of the vaccine available. The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended this year, the release stated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts studies each year to determine how effective the vaccine will be in protecting against influenza-related illness and while the effectiveness can vary from year to year, studies show that the vaccine remains the most effective way to protect public health.

Additionally, studies show that the influenza vaccine can make the illness milder in certain cases where an individual was vaccinated but still contracted influenza. NYSDOH recommends that everyone six months of age or older receive an influenza vaccination. The vaccine is especially important for people at high risk for complications from influenza, which includes children under age 2, pregnant women, and adults over age 65. People with preexisting conditions such as asthma and heart disease are also at greater risk as are individuals with weakened immune systems due to disease or medications such as chemotherapy or chronic steroid use. Since influenza virus can spread easily through coughing or sneezing, it is also important that family members and people in regular contact with high risk individuals get an influenza vaccine.

Most health insurance plans cover influenza vaccines. Individuals and families without health insurance should check with their county health department to find out if local clinics will be held to provide free or low-cost vaccinations. Those 18 years of age and older may also be able to get their influenza vaccine at a local pharmacy.

For more information about influenza, including how it is monitored in the state, visit the state Department of Health web page at www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza/seasonal.

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