Mayor declares public-health emergency as flu cases mount

Weekly ER visits due to flu-like symptoms, week ending 12/29. Source.Weekly ER visits in Boston due to flu-like symptoms, week ending 12/29. Source: BPHC.

Keep Calm and Wash HandsMayor Menino made the declaration this morning based on 700 flu confirmed flu cases - compared to 70 confirmed flu cases all of last winter. Four people, all seniors, have died.

Aside from increasing efforts to get people vaccinated, the declaration is a recognition that local hospitals are now near or at capacity due to an influx of people with flu-like symptoms.

The city plans to stock community-health centers with flu vaccine and open them this weekend to provide free doses to Boston residents. See the schedule. For more details, contact the Mayor's Health Line at 617-534-5050 9 am. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, or the Mayor's 24-hour Hotline at 617-635-4500 after hours.

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. It's the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family. If you're sick, please stay home from work or school.

In response to the flu news, the MBTA has started using its signboards and PA system to remind riders to cover their mouths when the cough or sneeze and to wash their hands:

Cover ya mouth! Photo by MBTA.Cover ya mouth! Photo by MBTA.



    Free tagging: 


    "List" of free clinics?

    That "list" of free clinics for Boston residents isn't really a list - there's one clinic a week, on Fridays from 1 to 4 PM, in Upham's Corner. That's it.

    I get that

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    the flu can be a very serious illness for some people, and I think it's worthwhile to get people vaccinated, encourage good hygiene habits, take precautions to protect hospital patients, etc.

    But the flu happens EVERY YEAR (twice, the time we had H1N1 in the spring.) Why do we need all of this panic and drama? Getting people whipped into a panicked frenzy over something routine seems counterproductive, because when something truly bad happens, they'll all stop listening.

    It's the sheer numbers

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    Ten times the confirmed cases of last winter (with more months to come) and hospitals are already at capacity (I've updated the original post to include this). They didn't declare an emergency last year.

    Hospitals are turning people away

    Yep - that bad. Chicago and NYC are in tougher shape. My niece had this bug fairly early on, now she's pulling double shifts as an ER nurse while it rips through the rest of the (vaccinated) staff.

    Flu epidemics like this one are usually classified as major epidemics. As an epidemiologist, I would "censor" or seriously discount the data for these weeks because they will mess up any sort of mortality analysis if the exposure of interest happens to be stronger in winter. This is pretty big.

    Closer to home, CVS had to call around to find enough to fill my prescriptions because they are running low on certain frequently prescribed medications for flu-related complications.

    The usual mass hysteria

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    This is mass hysteria fueled by the big pharma companies. It's the same hysteria every year, though it keeps getting shriller and shriller. Big pharma makes a bundle from this.


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    ...not really. There is not a lot of profit to be made in vaccines, compared to a drug like Lipitor.

    The vaccine is a pretty good step to prevent the flu. There is no reason to not get it, unless you have an allergic reaction to the shot.

    Of course, good handwashing is important too, both for the flu and for other nasty wintertime germs.

    The usual paranoia

    This is know-nothing paranoia fueled by ignorance and fear and heresay. It's the same hysteria every year, though it keeps getting shriller and shriller. God forbid we look at actual surveillance statistics or take a brief moment to learn from the many sources of explanations of the basic underlying science in lay terms.


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    Yeah, at eight bucks a dose for a drug that is administered at most 1x/year, I bet Big Vaccine is sleeping on mattresses stuffed with $100 bills.

    There's a bug that isn't in the vaccine

    Sure, a vaccination is a good idea because it will protect you from several of the strains going around and provide some cross-protection, but the reason this season is so bad is that there is a bug going around that wasn't covered by the North Hemisphere 2012-2013 vaccine formulation.

    Which is why I'm typing this from home ... because I always get my shots because I tend to get pneumonia when I get the flu ...

    Approximately 69% of the 115 influenza B viruses belonged to the B/Yamagata lineage of viruses, and were characterized as B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like, the influenza B component for the 2012-2013 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine. The remaining 31% of the tested influenza B viruses belonged to the B/Victoria lineage of viruses.


    BTW, I used to research flu transmission ... washing hands will help you avoid stomach viruses and the like, but respiratory viruses like influenza are transmitted through the air - even through ventilation systems. A mask will help keep you from infecting other people and may prevent droplet transmission, but it won't stop fully airborne virus from getting through. If you are sick STAY HOME and work to make that your office policy. It is the ONLY WAY to stop these things from ripping through your workplace.

    Great information Swirly,

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    Great information Swirly, thanks.

    From the CDC report it looks like only about 10% of cases identified by CDC were caused by strains not included in this year's vaccine. Do we know how many of the other 90% were from patients who had been vaccinated? In other words, how effective is the vaccine at protecting against strains that are included? In other other words, if I got the vaccine am I still going to need to wear a hazmat suit whenever I leave the house?

    and then of course we have

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    and then of course we have idiots who are going off and saying the Flu Shot is a waste of time and doesn't work.

    While in some cases it does not work, but in most it does. Of course having people go on and on about how it doesn't work, doesn't exactly help people who are on the fence about it make them want to get one.

    I've gotten the flu shot every year since 2000, and every year I have not gotten the flu. So I know it works...

    little kids + college kids

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    Children at school and daycare centers also spread these things like wildfire. Teacher friends tell me their first year as a teacher they pick up every sniffle that goes around. I normally get a bad cold maybe once a year and am generally in good health, but this past fall I had a childcare job that involved dropping off a toddler at a daycare center and even though I washed my hands religiously and used hand sanitizer every time I went there, I still was sick for four months straight. College dorms are also disgusting petri dishes of disease. I would say the higher numbers in Boston are perhaps due to college kids going home for the holiday break and bringing back strains from other parts of the country that end up spreading like wildfire through their dorms. Remember that some schools like Northeastern are already back in session. All makes sense to me.

    Thanks Swirly for that info!

    Thanks Swirly for that info! I got my vaccination as usual but still got sick. Maybe the recovery period is shorter for the vaccinated population. I was able to recover over two weeks - granted both were holiday weeks so a lot of R&R opportunities. I found success with neti pot, Mucinex, and antihistamines.

    Same here

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    Flu shot, got sick last month anyway. Not sure if it was the flu or just something nasty. Maybe it was this.

    What you had doesn't sound

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    What you had doesn't sound like the "flu" flu though - sounds more like a sinus infection or a cold virus which would not have been covered by the vaccine. I got the flu shot too and never had flu symptoms but did deal with a sinus infection for most of the fall and started working up a Mucinex tab in the pharma database.

    Heath care system overwhelmed

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    My GP was completely booked for the rest of the week when I called yesterday for a non -flu issue. I was able to see someone at the walk-in center at Mt Auburn, but it makes me wonder how the system would respond to a pandemic ala "Contagion" or 1918.

    I got a flu shot and have been sick for 10 days with a bad cold that I'm pretty sure wasn't actually flu ( no fever).
    I think a lot of people are confusing bad cold with flu, Not that the cold is much better.

    City of Somerville has run out of flu vaccine

    announced on official city Facebook page:

    CITY FLU SHOT CLINICS CANCELED: Due to unexpected high demand for flu shots via the City's free program, our vaccine supply has run out. The Health Department encourages those still in need of a shot to check with their primary care physician, chain pharmacies, or chain stores with pharmacies to find out if they have vaccine available. All remaining City flu clinics have been canceled.


    My Doc's office was Triaging

    I know it is a virus and there isn't much to be done about the primary, miserable illness symptoms. I'd much rather stay at home and tough it out. I toughed it out over the weekend rather than rot in an ER or walk-in.

    Complications, however, may require treatment - like, I couldn't climb a flight of stairs without stopping to catch my breath ... when I had been able to jump on my bike for a multiple hour, 40 ride just before the snow hit.

    My GP had one of the nurses answering the phone and asking a series of questions ... I guess having to pause to breathe every several words and "yes, it hurts when I breathe" gets an appointment within an hour.


    I agree - I have never (knock

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    I agree - I have never (knock on wood) gotten the "flu" flu, before or after a flu shot, and I've gotten a flu shot the past few years. I have however gotten several bad colds and a sinus infection. I also had a Norovirus a couple Christmases ago that spread like wildfire through my office within a few days. Now THAT is something I would pay money to get vaccinated for - to me Norovirus is the worst, I had to postpone my Christmas flight til the day of because I couldn't physically get out of bed for 24 hours. Then just like that it was gone.