With New York facing a historic outbreak of influenza this season, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to designate a special ‘domestic flu surveillance team’ for New York State. Already, more than 5,000 New Yorkers have become bedridden as a result of this year’s serious flu epidemic. Schumer said today that a domestic flu surveillance team for New York would help augment the work of inundated hospitals and budget strained localities across the state.

Sen Charles Schumer
Sen Charles Schumer

“A New York specific flu surveillance team would help take the state’s temperature on the epidemic and help break its fever,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “With record-setting highs this season, it’s absolutely critical that New York have the resources it needs to track the flu’s path, gather intelligence and combat this powerful virus. The CDC should immediately designate a special domestic flu surveillance team for New York to hone in on the virus and augment the great work of our local hospitals and health departments.”

According to the CDC foundation, a nonprofit that supports the CDC’s health protection work, the flu results in 31.4 million outpatient visits and 200,000 hospitalizations across the country annually. While flu seasons are unpredictable and can vary in severity each year, there are between 3,000 and 49,000 influenza deaths nationwide. This causes an estimated annual $87 billion total economic burden to U.S. businesses.

According to New York State, over the past four years, twenty-five patients have died from the flu in New York State alone. Eight of those deaths occurred during last year’s flu season. As of January 18th, the weekly rate of New Yorkers hospitalized with influenza was the highest it had ever been since the Department of Health began reporting in 2004. So far this season, 5,267 people in New York have been hospitalized as a result of the flu, compared with 3,533 hospitalizations the prior season.

To make matters worse, the United States is currently experiencing a shortage of IV saline solutions and bags in the face of the deadly flu season. The shortage in supply can be mostly attributed to Hurricane Maria, which cut off power and thereby interrupted production at Baxter, the Puerto Rico based medical supply facility which single handedly constitutes over 43 percent of the United States’ IV solution market. Even before the impact of Hurricane Maria, that market, reeling from a 2014 shortage, was experiencing a supply shortage over the past few years. As a result, hospitals around the country have been forced to use alternative methods to treat this outbreak as they are receiving far less saline bags than they ordered. This has in turn led to other shortages of medical materials – for instance, far more syringes are being used than usual as they are employed in lieu of ivy drips.

The purpose of the CDC domestic flu surveillance team is to collect, analyze, and publish data on the impact of the flu. Specifically, the team seeks information on when and where the flu activity is occurring, determining the strain of flu circulating, detecting changes in the flu virus and measuring the impact of the virus on hospitalizations and deaths. The data gathered is used to improve and adapt the influenza vaccination and geospatial data can be used to issue public health advisories to healthcare workers about which symptoms, diagnosis and treatments to be aware of.

Schumer today said that a special domestic flu surveillance team in New York would help localities across the state better combat the flu. Schumer said a New York specific team would provide much needed assistance to the New York Health Department, which has been hard at work to aid the thousands of New Yorkers young and old who have been affected by the deadly virus.