The New York City Department of Health released its latest data on the spread of influenza in the city on January 8. In the last weeks of December, the city saw a massive increase in visits to outpatient medical facilities for influenza-like illnesses (ILI). The latest data shows that 5.2 percent of all outpatient visits were for an ILI. This is a 66 percent increase in the last three weeks.
The Health Department defines an ILI visit as:
... the patient reported fever with cough or sore throat, or used the word “flu” to describe either their symptoms or their reason for the visit (for example, if they requested influenza testing).
The majority of visits to the 49 emergency departments in New York City were for patients under age four. The number of ILI patients visiting the ED was highest in Queens and lowest on Staten Island. Laboratories in the city tested 2,432 specimens and approximately 25 percent were positive for influenza. Some 1,889 specimens were submitted to be tested for RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, and 15 percent of those were positive.
The increase in flu cases in New York City is coupled with the loss of the services of many medical clinics and hospital emergency departments due to Hurricane Sandy. The Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) which operates the public hospitals in the city estimates that repairs and recovery at its facilities will cost $800 million.
The two most damaged hospitals in the HHC system were Bellevue and Coney Island. Bellevue has reopened its emergency department and many outpatient clinics but has not returned to full operation. Coney Island Hospital's emergency department is closed but the hospital is operating urgent care and two mobile medical vans. On the private side, the NYU Langone Medical Center emergency department also remains closed.
Many other clinics and health care services remain closed or are only in partial operation. These storm related closings significantly reduce the options for city residents with an illness, including the flu.