(RxWiki News) This year's flu season has already proven to be devastating. The virus' effect in Boston is so severe that the mayor declared the flu outbreak as a public health emergency on Wednesday.
Boston mayor Thomas Menino's announcement was triggered by 700 confirmed cases of flu in the city, and 18 flu-related deaths in Massachusetts. The city will begin to offer free flu vaccines in hopes of stemming the spread of infection.
"Get a flu shot, especially if you are in a high risk region."
This year's flu season started unusually early, and has been unusually severe. The flu strain that has emerged as the most common source of illness, called H3N2, has a reputation for making people sicker than other strains.
It's in stark contrast to last year's unusually mild flu season. In 2011-2012, Boston had 70 confirmed cases total, and it is already 10 times higher this year, said Mayor Menino.
Flu season starts in October and continues to April. It typically peaks in the deep winter months of December and January.
Across the country, hospitals are struggling to find space to accommodate flu patients, Reuters reported.
At Mass General, a large Boston hospital, there are 24 hour waits, according to WJLA.com. Dr. Paul Biddinger said he has seen “unprecedented levels of hospital crowding” in emergency rooms.
Massachusetts is one of 29 states that is reporting unusually high levels of flu to the CDC. Minnesota has seen 1,000 confirmed cases of flu already, WJLA.com reported.
In a statement, Menino said, "This is the worst flu season we've seen since 2009, and people should take the threat of flu seriously. This is not only a health concern, but also an economic concern for families, and I'm urging residents to get vaccinated if they haven't already."
Reuters reported that the job-consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said that people who are sick with flu may be afraid to miss work to stay home sick. But that's exactly what the CDC and most doctors recommend doing: stay home to avoid spreading the flu to others.
“Anyone who has not already been vaccinated should do so now,” Dr. Joe Bresee of the CDC said in a statement. “And it’s important to remember that people who have severe influenza illness, or who are at high risk of serious influenza-related complications, should get treated with influenza antiviral medications if they get flu symptoms regardless of whether or not they got vaccinated."
"Also, you don’t need to wait for a positive laboratory test to start taking antivirals.”