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It's official: It's flu season in New York state

The headline says it all. Earlier this week, Health Commissioner Niray R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., declared that influenza is prevalent in the state. To date, 45 counties and all boroughs of New York City have confirmed cases of the flu. While the statement may not have meant much for the average citizen, for health care workers, the declaration had an immediate impact: If they have not received a flu shot this year, they must wear a surgical or procedure mask anywhere that patients may be present.

The state regulation is new this year, and this is not a gradual rollout. In order to stem the transmission of the flu, especially among very young and older patients, workers must take the necessary precautions. Workers who have been vaccinated are not affected by the rule. But, while the state urges everyone to have a flu shot every year, not everyone can tolerate the vaccination. Wearing a mask is an effective way to protect everyone from infection.

The rule only applies to facilities regulated by the state health department. Don't be fooled, though, because that list is long. Hospitals, nursing homes, diagnostic centers and hospices are just a few of the types of facilities affected.

It's important to note, too, that the rule applies to administrative personnel as well. Anyone who ventures into an area where patients may be must be vaccinated or must wear a mask. The health department reminds workers that the mask will protect them from picking up the flu from patients and coworkers as well.

Flu The symptoms may look like a cold, but they will usually come on faster and be more pronounced. And, again, the flu is more dangerous than a cold. Infection in children younger than 24 months, pregnant women, individuals over 50, people with compromised immune systems or chronic medical conditions can be fatal.

Workers who balk at the idea of wearing a mask may want to consider how a widespread infection could affect the entire facility. Not only would patients be ill, but hospital or nursing home resources would be stretched thin. Just as a worker would clean up a spill to prevent patients and coworkers from injury, he should get a flu shot or don a mask.

The rule is in effect until the commissioner determines that the flu is no longer prevalent in the state. In the past, flu season has lasted through winter and well into spring.

Source: Empire State News, "With flu prevalent, new regulation aims to protect patients, health care workers," Jan. 10, 2014

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