NYU students returning to the city after winter break should brace themselves for a particularly brutal flu season in New York this winter.
This year, the New York State Department of Health confirmed 2,884 documented cases of the flu, compared to 1,169 in 2011.
In response to this year’s serious flu season, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a public health emergency last Saturday in New York and issued an executive order allowing pharmacists to administer flu vaccinations to minors for the next 30 days.
“We are experiencing the worst flu season since at least 2009,” Governor Cuomo said in a press release. “Influenza activity in New York State is widespread, with cases reported in all 57 counties and all five boroughs of New York City.”
The executive order suspends a State Education Law which prohibited pharmacists from administering the vaccine to patients under 18 years old.
Peter Constantakes, a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said researchers are still looking into the reasons why this year’s flu season seems to be particularly threatening. One reason may be that this flu season began earlier than usual.
“The flu season usually starts a little later and peaks around February,” Constantakes said. “A lot of times people would be vaccinated before it starts growing or when it just starts growing. This year I think it caught a lot of people off-guard.”
Constantakes said the best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated, but he also advised simple preventative methods for college students such as washing hands frequently and being careful when sharing food.
This year’s flu emergency has even spurred the creation of a web app called Germ Tracker. Adam Sadilek, the app’s creator, explained how the app uses ‘geo-tagged’ statuses from social media websites to create a visual map that documents areas of New York City with a high concentration of those affected by the flu.
“As a result, we can track and predict the emergence of global disease epidemics from people’s day-to-day interactions,” Sadilek said. “For example, how would you count the number of sick people you have encountered yesterday? It’s hard. Germ Tracker allows you to do this by sifting through millions of tweets and showing you only the ones that are relevant to your health.”
A version of this article appeared on the Monday, Jan. 28 print edition. Su Sie Park is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.