A severe strain of influenza is hitting Boston — and the region— hard, prompting renewed calls for uninfected people to get vaccinated as hospitals and health centers cope with bulging waiting rooms. The city of Boston has recorded ten times more flu cases so far this season than in the entire season in 2012— a fact that has triggered concern among police makers and health care providers.
“It’s still on an upswing,” said Dr. Anita Barry, the chief of the city of Boston’s Infectious Disease center. “We’ve had over 700 cases reported as of Jan. 5. To put that in perspective, last year [from Oct. 1- March 31] we had 70 reported cases. It’s huge. This has been an early flu season and what we have circulating primarily is a virus traditionally associated with more severe illness.”
Barry said that the most common strain this season— the AH3 virus— can best be combated by getting the flu vaccine. She stressed that it is not too late to get that done.
“It’s the best protection that we have,” she said. “It’s not 100 percent. People can still get ill, but in general, it’s a milder illness.”
At neighborhood health centers, the push is on not only to get people vaccinated, but also to reduce the risk of more infections by streamlining patients who show up sick to urgent care centers.
“What we see here in Uphams Corner are increasing numbers of people using urgent care,” said Carol Rodman, the special projects director for Uphams Corner Health Center. “What we’re doing is taking those patients as quickly as possible so they’re not sitting in general waiting rooms for any longer than possible. We isolate them at urgent care.”
In extreme cases — particularly with those with pre-existing conditions— hospitalization will be required. Most patients are being prescribed anti-viral medications and sent home, Rodman said.
“If people start to have symptoms— fever, chills— we recommend that they either come to the community health center or call their clinical provider. We don’t want people sitting here in the general waiting area.”
Rodman also urged people to wash their hands frequently with warm or hot water. Flu clinics are being run regularly and can be viewed at the Uphams website.
At the Codman Square Health Center, the surge in sick patients is still well within its capacity. The center is stepping up vaccinations efforts by hosting a free flu clinic at this Sunday’s Winter Farmers’ Market at the Great Hall, from 1-4 p.m.
“We’re seeing bigger incidence for sure in the community,” said Tricia Thomas, RN, the director of clinical services for Codman. “What we’re trying to do is run flu clinics for the community – on Sunday at the farmer’s market and, in addition, we’ll be running more clinics. Thomas said the health center wants people “to come in and be evaluated,” but reminds patients to stay home from work if they exhibit symptoms.
For her part, Dr. Barry says that this strain of the flu can lead to fatalities. “We’re particularly concerned on the extremes of age— children under 5 and the elderly— or those who have underlying health problems. People who have infants under six months at home— who cannot be vaccinated yet— are urged to protect the babies by getting themselves vaccinated.
“We really have to rely on the people around them to be protected,” she said, adding that residents can call the mayor’s health line at 617-534-5050 to be connected with vaccination options.