November 18, 2008 – As part of a continued effort to prepare for the peak of influenza season, the city will launch the NYC FluLine on Thursday, November 19, the Health Department announced today. Through this service, 311 operators will provide concerned New Yorkers with information on what to do if they or a family member feels sick with flu-like illness (fever with cough or sore throat). Callers with symptoms of influenza will be connected to registered nurses, who will provide information and advice on whether to seek care. For concerned patients who don’t have or can’t reach a regular health care provider, NYC FluLine is an alternative to standing in line at a hospital emergency department. The call-center nurses will not make diagnoses or prescribe treatments, but they will advise callers about whether to see a doctor or stay home. When necessary, on-call nurses will refer people to clinics, facilitating timely treatment while preventing unnecessary visits to emergency departments. Operators at 311 will not direct emergency calls to NYC FluLine.
“The city is activating the NYC FluLine to help New Yorkers decide if they need medical care for symptoms that might be a sign of influenza,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “If you think you might have influenza, and you can’t reach a regular health care provider, try calling NYC FluLine before going to an emergency room. It may save you the time and cost.”
New York City is currently experiencing less influenza activity than the rest of the northeast region, and levels of reported illness are far below those seen during the H1N1 outbreak of spring 2009. But the H1N1 virus is circulating, and the Health Department’s surveillance systems show that influenza-like illness has increased steadily since early September. Though the current rate doesn’t approach that seen in May and June, it is well above normal for this time of year. The number of hospitalizations and deaths has also risen since September (though both numbers are still low), and prescriptions for antiviral medication have risen sharply in recent weeks.
Despite the signs of increased H1N1 activity, the Health Department has yet to see any uptick in seasonal influenza this fall. Vaccination is the best way to prevent either infection. Each virus requires a different vaccine, and each vaccine is recommended for different people. Here are the priority groups for H1N1 vaccination:
- Pregnant women
- Anyone 6 months through 24 years old
- People 25 through 64 who have chronic health conditions that make influenza more dangerous
- People who live with or care for children younger than 6 months
- Health care and emergency medical workers
For more information about influenza – and New York City’s influenza-related services – please visit nyc.gov/flu. Information is also available in all languages through the City’s 311 system.