The state health commissioner has declared influenza "prevalent" in New York. This state declaration means health care workers, who have not had their flu vaccine, are now required to wear surgical masks when they are in areas where there are normally patients.

The state health commissioner has declared influenza "prevalent" in New York.

The declaration doesn't mean much for residents however health care workers, who have not had their flu vaccine, are now required to wear surgical masks when they are in areas where there are normally patients.

In a news release, Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker stressed the importance of protecting patients from the flu. He also recommended everyone -- health workers and the general public -- get their flu shots.

"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."

According to the health department, 86 percent of health care workers had their flu vaccines during the last flu season.