- New York hit nearly 600 confirmed flu cases as of Oct. 1, nearly four times more infections than the same period last year.
- Last year, the virus struggled to spread due to widespread mask wearing indoors, and more people working and learning remotely.
- The regions reporting the highest number of cases are New York City, the Capital District and Central New York.
New York’s flu season is off to an “early and aggressive” start this fall, as rapidly spreading respiratory illnesses of all kinds triggered public health alerts nationally, health officials said.
The early tally of confirmed flu cases in New York hit nearly 600 cases as of Oct. 1, nearly four times more infections than the same period last year.
Meanwhile, the return to in-person learning this school year − as well as the end of indoor mask mandates and other policies intended to curb COVID-19 outbreaks − is expected to fuel waves of infections from a variety of viruses this fall and winter.
Amid the concerns, health officials urged New Yorkers to get their flu shot and COVID-19 booster to help limit severe illnesses and reduce the strain on hospitals.
“I urge all New Yorkers to protect themselves and their family and friends by getting a flu vaccine as soon as possible,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said in a statement, noting the COVID-19 booster can be taken at the same time as the flu shot.
How many flu cases in New York?
To understand New York’s flu warning signs this season, consider the statewide tally overall in the 2020-21 season was about 4,900 cases. The virus struggled to spread in part due to widespread mask wearing indoors as many people worked and learned remotely.
By contrast, the flu count totaled nearly 158,000 cases in 2019-2020, a record high and up from 108,000 the prior season, state data show.
Further, flu-related hospitalizations during those prior seasons topped 15,500 statewide, underscoring the potential fallout for New York hospitals if cases spike this season. Nationally, the flu kills thousands of Americans each year, with a recent high of 52,000 deaths in 2017-18, federal data show.
Last season, New York reported nearly 126,000 flu cases in a season that extended into June and, strikingly, the current season so far is outpacing all of the recent seasons.
The flu vaccine is available to those six months and older. But those aged 65 years and older, people with certain chronic medical conditions, young children and pregnant women are most in jeopardy of developing serious complications, which could require hospitalization and result in death.
When is flu season in NY?
Flu season usually runs from October through May, and typically peaks between December and February.
But this year, cases were reported in higher than usual numbers in September, Bassett noted, and cases of laboratory-confirmed flu are increasing week over week.
As of Monday, the number of New York counties reporting flu cases is 44, which is considered widespread, a determination made when more than half of the state’s 62 counties report lab-confirmed cases.
The regions reporting the highest number of cases are the New York City area, the Capital District and Central New York, with upstate counties recording 57% of the 596 confirmed cases last week.
By comparison, last year there were 150 cases as of Oct. 9. The state-run website that tracks flu activity on a seasonal dashboard will go live online at the end of October, via health.ny.gov, officials said.
Further, experts warned children face heightened risks from a variety of respiratory illnesses this season, as a growing number of young kids who lacked immunity from prior infections ended up in hospitals nationally.