Acting New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker today declared influenza prevalent in New York State. With this declaration, health care workers who are not vaccinated against influenza must now wear masks in areas where patients are typically present.
“Flu shots are a safe and effective way to reduce your risk for infection during flu season and I urge all New Yorkers to get one,” said Dr. Zucker. “Unfortunately, not all health care workers choose to get vaccinated. By requiring those who are not vaccinated to wear masks while around patients, we’re doing all we can to protect the most vulnerable, like the sick and the elderly.”
The “Prevention of Influenza Transmission by Health Care and Residential Facility and Agency Personnel” regulation became effective upon publication in the State Register on July 31, 2013 after it was adopted by the New York State Public Health and Health Planning Council. The regulation requires health care workers in certain facilities and agencies that the New York State Department of Health (DOH) regulates to wear masks while influenza is prevalent in the state if they have not been vaccinated against influenza. The regulation was first in effect during the 2013-2014 influenza season.
The regulation was amended effective November 19, 2014 in response to feedback from affected health care entities. The amendments clarify definitions, bring documentation requirements in line with those for other vaccines, simplify data collection, and allow for removal of masks when health care workers are accompanying patients in the community, providing speech therapy services, or communicating with persons who lip read.
Preventing influenza transmission from health care personnel to patients is a serious patient safety issue. Health care personnel are at increased risk of acquiring influenza because of their contact with ill patients, and workers who are ill can also transmit influenza to their patients. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends that health care workers be vaccinated for influenza, vaccination rates are usually far below the Healthy People 2020 goal of 90%. Masks are an alternative for persons who cannot be vaccinated or who refuse vaccination and help to reduce the likelihood of transmission.
A flu vaccine is the best way to protect against influenza.While this year’s vaccine is not well matched against one of the types of flu viruses (H3N2) circulating this season, it still provides protection against several of the viruses that are spreading this year, and it may reduce severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death if people do become infected.
DOH recommends that everyone six months of age or older receive a flu vaccination. Healthy children between the ages of two and eight are recommended to receive the nasal spray flu vaccine. If the nasal spray vaccine is not available, the flu shot can be given instead.Those under six months cannot get a flu vaccination. Since the flu virus can spread through coughing or sneezing, it is also important that family members and people who regularly come into contact with children and other individuals at a higher risk get a flu shot.