NY declares public health emergency over flu outbreak

(CBS News) The flu has hit epidemic levels. On Saturday, New York's governor declared a public health emergency and allowed pharmacists to give flu shots to children as young as six months. At the moment, almost every state in the country -- 47 in all -- say the flu is widespread.

The order from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo means pharmacists now have authority to give flu shots to children between 6 months and 18 years of age.

Across New York, the number of flu cases is exploding. About 19,000 have been reported so far, nearly five times as many as last year.

At an immediate care clinic in Rochester, Janet Williams sees a steady flow of patients. "We're setting records here in our urgent care center in terms of the number of patients were seeing per day," she said.

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It's not just New York. About 15 states are reporting an especially high levels of flu. They include Utah, Texas, Minnesota and Virginia. Only five states are reporting minimal flu levels.

And the Centers for Disease Control reports, the 2013 epidemic is taking a deadly toll across the country, claiming the lives of at least 20 children.

In South Carolina, over-the-counter cold and flu medicines are at a premium. Pharmacist Ken Rogers says he is down to just four doses of Tamiflu, and the children's version of the medication is on back order.

"There's not a delivery date to my wholesaler, which is in North Carolina, and they are telling me they cant even get it from the manufacturer," he said.

While there are spot shortages, flu vaccine is still available. On Saturday, people lined up outside a Boston health center to get their shots. Trish Marshall was among them. "I just wanted to get the flu shot to be sure, to be safe," she said

And health officials say with six weeks to go in the flu season, vaccination is still the best defense.

"It is still not too late to get flu shot," said New York City's health commissioner Tom Farley. "If it doesn't totally protect you, what it does is it makes the illness milder."

The good news is that the CDC said there are some signs the tough flu season may now be peaking, meaning the number of cases could start to decline over the next few weeks.

  • Bob Orr

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