SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

January 10, 2013

Flu sweeping across region, nation

The flu is sweeping across the nation earlier than normal this year, and the North Shore is not immune.

Health officials nationally are warning of a harsh flu season, which usually peaks in midwinter. The state’s Department of Public Health says the state is one of many reporting above-average flu hospitalization rates.

State public health officials have reported 18 flu-related deaths, and the city of Boston yesterday declared a public health emergency.

“We are seeing lots of it with different variations of symptoms,” said Dr. Phillip Rice, vice chairman of the emergency department at the North Shore Medical Center in Salem. “This is much worse than anything we’ve seen in the last decade.”

Rice said they’ve had to adjust staffing at the hospital to accommodate all the flu-related patients.

“It’s all hands on deck,” he said.

Because the virus mutates every year, it is unknown why the peak season might hit earlier or later in any given year, Rice said.

Officials at Beverly Hospital could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Massachusetts was one of 29 states reporting high levels of “influenza-like illness,” according to the most recent weekly flu advisory issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The estimated rate of flu-related hospitalizations in the U.S. was 8.1 per 100,000 people, which is high for this time of year, according to Dr. Joe Bresee, chief of the epidemiology and prevention branch of the CDC’s influenza division. The agency’s next advisory will be issued tomorrow.

Like many other health officials, Rice recommended people get a flu shot, while cautioning that vaccines will not guarantee people won’t come down with the flu.

Sharon Cameron, Peabody’s director of health and human services, said the city had seen a dramatic increase in the number of confirmed flu cases in that city.

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