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DC 37 News

Flu fighters

DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido gets an annual flu vaccine from a Local 436 Public Health Nurse.

At the Fort Greene immunization clinic, Health Dept. nurse Cheryl Whatley finds that some people are still reluctant to get the flu vaccine.

“We educate them about the flu, incubation and how the body reacts,” said Whatley, a member of the United Federation of Nurses and Epidemiologists Local 436. “We distribute brochures. More and more college students, home care workers, and parents with kids come to us for flu shots.”

Whatley and public health workers in other DC 37 locals are on the frontlines fighting H3N2 flu. Originally known as the 1968 Hong Kong flu, this go-round may be the worst flu epidemic in the decade since the swine flu, superbug H1N1, first appeared in 2009.

Keeping New Yorkers healthy

“Local 420 members are working hard to keep New Yorkers and themselves healthy in a deadly flu season,” said President Carmen Charles.

NYC Health+Hospitals saw an 11 percent uptick in people sick with flu, according to the New York City Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene, with over 3,000 hospitalized in New York City since October.

Though H3N2 pales in comparison to the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed 20 to 40 million people, this year’s flu is no less lethal. Four virulent strains are prevalent. Fever, sore throat and respiratory distress are signs of H3N2. This flu season four children in New York City died; 39 children nationwide.

With an estimated efficacy of 30 percent, this year’s vaccine may not always prevent the flu, but health officials’ advice is get the shot anyway. Inoculation, health experts said, stems transmission and lessens the severity of flu symptoms. It can help one avoid a hospital stay and even prevent death. Seniors, children, and people with diabetes, asthma or other compromised health conditions should get a flu shot.

New York State mandates all healthcare workers be vaccinated yearly for the flu.

“H+H documents employees’ inoculation on their employment record and ID cards,” said Cynthia Keyes-Padilla, assistant director of the union’s Hospitals and Health Professionals division. “Since 2013 H+H policy is that employees who are unable to take the flu shot must wear surgical masks or face disciplinary action.”

“We are all interconnected; any meaningful response to the rampant flu pandemic requires an immediate fiscal response,” said Local 768 President Fitz Reed.

To broaden availability, Governor Andrew Cuomo released emergency funds to fight flu and now allows pharmacists to inoculate children age 2 to 18; U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer asked for beefed-up federal aid.

Tracking flu outbreaks

Meanwhile Local 768 members, and nurses and epidemiologists in Local 436 continue to track flu outbreaks by neighborhood and across boroughs. They report a rise in demand for flu shots, especially for children.

“In September School Nurses began instructing teachers and children on how to stay healthy in the coming flu season. Cough into your elbow—not your hands — and wash hands often after touching doorknobs and riding public transportation, these strategies can stave off flu transmission,” said Judith Arroyo, president of Local 436. “Coupled with the vaccine, these simple preventive measures go a long way to minimize the spread of flu.”