OSWEGO — Health officials are on alert due to a novel coronavirus wreaking havoc in China that has slowly appeared in the United States, but state and local health workers are urging residents influenza remains prevalent and currently poses a more significant threat.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week said state and local health departments are in a high state of readiness to protect New Yorkers from the coronavirus, and pointed out the flu continues to pose a risk. Oswego County health officials also urged residents to “diligently practice personal hygiene” to prevent illness and follow other preventative measures to limit the spread of the flu as the number of laboratory-confirmed cases in the county this season now tops 420.

The state has not yet had a single confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, Cuomo said, but officials are taking “every necessary precaution to protect against its spread” into the state.

“We have been here before, and I want to remind New Yorkers that it is much more likely that they will be exposed to the influenza virus than to the coronavirus,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Statewide influenza remains widespread as ore than 15,000 lab-confirmed cases were reported last week, a more than 10 percent increase over the previous week. More than 420 cases have been reported in Oswego County since flu season started late last year, with more than 390 cases reported since late December.

In early January, the state Department of Health (DOH) issues a statewide health advisory alerting healthcare providers to a dramatic increase in influenza activity across New York.

According to data from DOH, there are more than twice as many influenza cases in Oswego County so far this flu season than the previous season in 2018-2019. Statewide data shows a similar trend, with more than 72,000 lab-confirmed cases reported this season.

“As flu is considered widespread in New York State, taking everyday preventative steps such as washing hands often, covering a cough or sneeze and staying home when experiencing flu-like symptoms will help prevent the spread of the flu,” said DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “These same actions will help protect New Yorkers against the novel coronavirus.”

Diane Oldenburg, senior public health educator with the county Health Department, noted that more than half of the reported flu activity this season in Oswego County is caused by a strain of the flu virus that tends to cause more cases and severe symptoms among children and young adults.

State and local officials continue to stress the flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu

“Vaccine offers the greatest protection from the flu,” said Oldenburg. “Vaccine is plentiful. However, there are other important measures Oswego County residents can take to reduce their chances of getting and spreading the flu and other respiratory illnesses this time of year and all year long.”

Oldenburg urged all residents cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of our elbow, not in their hands. People should wash their hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available. Individuals should also keep their hands away from their eyes, nose and mouth, as flu and other respiratory viruses are spread that way.

Health officials urge people to avoid close contact with sick people, and to stay home when they are sick. Oldenburg noted individuals should not return to school or work until they have been fever-free without medication for at least 24 hours.

“Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs,” said Jodi Martin, a supervising public health nurse of preventative services with the county. “If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.”

Martin recommends individuals at higher risk for serious illness and complications from the flu contact their health care provider at the first sign of the flu, to see if it is appropriate for them to be prescribed an antiviral medicine, which can reduce the severity of the flu.

Those at higher risk of serious illness and complications from the flu include pregnant women, children younger than five, people age 65 or older, individuals with respiratory conditions and people with underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems. People under the age of 19 who are on long-term aspirin therapy are also at increased risk.

Flu shots are available from the county Health Department Monday through Friday, from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m., at the department’s office located at 70 Bunner St. in Oswego. No appointment is needed.

Flu shots are available for adults and children at the H. Douglas Barclay Courthouse in Pulaski on the third Tuesday of the month, from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Please call the county Health Department at 315-349-3547 to schedule an appointment in Pulaski.

The county Health Department can bill many insurers and all patients should bring their insurance benefit cards with them to the immunization clinic. For individuals covered by other insurance providers, health officials will provide a receipt that may be submitted for possible reimbursement.

For individuals who are not insured, the county health department may be able to provide the vaccine at a reduced rate. No one will be turned away due to inability to pay.

For more information on flu vaccine, steps to prevent the flu, or to schedule an appointment in the Pulaski office, contact the Oswego County Health Department weekdays at 315-349-3547.

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