NEW YORK (WABC) --Flu season is in full swing, but that doesn't mean it's too late to get vaccinated.
Doctors around the area say there is still a need to protect yourself, and that emergency rooms are filled with patients complaining of aches, fever and chills.
It takes about two weeks after the vaccination for the body's immune system to fully respond, but health officials say the flu season runs through May.
New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker last week declared influenza prevalent in New York State, meaning health care workers who had not been vaccinated against influenza must wear surgical or procedure masks in areas where patients are typically present.
"Now that flu is officially prevalent in New York, we need to step up our defenses against this potentially life threatening illness," Dr. Zucker said. "Getting a flu vaccine is still the best way to stay healthy during flu season. I encourage all New Yorkers, but especially health care workers, to get a vaccine if they have not done so yet. Those who choose not to get vaccinated will be required by public health law to wear a mask whenever they are near patients."
Preventing health care personnel from contracting influenza and transmitting it to patients is a serious patient safety issue. Because health care workers are at increased risk of acquiring influenza from their contact with sick patients, the CDC strongly recommends that health care workers be vaccinated for influenza.
Flu activity in the state is now considered to be widespread, with laboratory-confirmed cases in 39 counties and all boroughs of New York City.
So far this season in New York, 658 flu-related hospitalizations have been reported, and there have been no reports of pediatric deaths from flu. Over the last three seasons, there have been 17 pediatric flu deaths in total in New York and an average of 9,800 flu-related hospitalizations each season.
CLICK HERE for information on state vaccination rates by health care facility
Flu season occurs primarily from October through May, often peaking in February. This year's flu shot covers the most common circulating strains of the flu, but the nasal spray is not recommended this year. Doctors also stress other ways of limiting transmission, such as frequent hand washing, sneezing and coughing into a tissue or elbow, and staying home if you are sick. And doctors say even if you do get the flu after being vaccinated, the shot should lessen the severity of illness.
The vaccine is especially important for people at high risk for complications from the flu, which includes children under age 2, pregnant women and people with preexisting conditions such as asthma, heart disease and weakened immune systems due to disease or medications such as chemotherapy or chronic steroid use.
Since the flu virus can spread through coughing or sneezing, it is also important that family members and people who regularly come into contact with children, older adults, and other individuals at higher risk get a flu shot.
Most health insurance plans cover flu vaccines. Individuals and families without health insurance should check with their county health department to find out if local clinics will be held to provide free or low cost
Those 18 years of age and older may also be able to get their flu vaccine at a local pharmacy.
For additional information about influenza, including how it is monitored in New York State, visit the Department of Health web page.