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October 30, 2013

Area hospitals beef up anti-flu efforts

The annual advice and promotions about immunizations against seasonal flu are prevalent.

And this year, health-care workers are required to take a dose of prevention under a state regulation that went into effect July 31.

Meanwhile, some local providers have cut flu-shot programs because of greater availability of immunizations at physician offices and pharmacies.

Under the new regulation, hospitals, state-licensed nursing homes and other facilities are mandated to require personnel not vaccinated against influenza to wear a mask while working in areas where patients or clients may be present.

Masks would be required when the state health commissioner deems influenza to be prevalent, according to the state Department of Health. The regulation is to protect patients from acquiring the flu from infected health-care workers.

“This law is good,” Peggy Benjamin, a registered nurse and immunization coordinator at Otsego County Department of Health, said Monday.

Most Otsego Public Health employees do get flu-shots, which is important because staffers work with vulnerable populations, according to Benjamin, who said she hasn’t heard much negative feedback about the new state rule.

Benjamin said one case of the flu was confirmed recently in Otsego County. Not all influenza-like cases are tested for confirmation, she said, and the seasonal peak usually is in February but has been as late as March.

Influenza, a severe respiratory illness, has been reported sporadically in New York state this month. Several area health-care officials said there isn’t much information about the 2013-14 season, but they nonetheless urged preventive steps, including getting a flu shot, washing hands and staying home when ill.

Flu epidemics happen every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, but the severity and timing of flu seasons are unpredictable.

Flu activity usually peaks in the United States in January or February, however, it can begin as early as October and continue into May.

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