A flu outbreak has led the city of Boston to declare a health emergency as cases of the disease are up tenfold from this time last year.
The situation in Boston is also playing out nationwide as regions struck hard by the flu are struggling with ways to cope. Health officials noted that the flu came earlier this year and has been more severe, Forbes noted. The strain that is hitting people — H3N2 — is known to cause a particularly fierce illness, especially in elderly patients.
In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino said the city would begin offering free flu vaccinations to help slow the outbreak, Reuters reported.
“The latest reports show an increasingly tough flu season,” Menino told reporters. He urged residents to get vaccinated, saying, “We are less than halfway through the flu season.”
Dr. Michael Jhung, a flu expert at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said people should not underestimate the severity of the flu virus.
“That is in the recent memory of many people. They can tend to underestimate the effects of flu, but it puts several hundred thousand people in the hospital every year. It can kill up to 50,000 people every year, and there are certain groups — people with underlying medical conditions, the elderly and the very young — who are at risk for severe illness from flu.”
The flu season normally starts in December, peaking in January or Feburary and fading by the time spring comes.
Although it varies widely from year to year, the flu season typically starts in December, builds to a peak in January or February and fades away by late March or early April.