Flu season is off to a very slow start, but health officials warn that the full brunt of this year's flu virus could be right around the corner.
There have been no confirmed cases of influenza at North Shore Medical Center in Salem, according to DeeDee Suslak, director of infection control. By this time last year, the hospital had seen approximately 100 cases of the flu, she said.
At Beverly Hospital, the situation is the same: only two confirmed cases of the flu this year, compared with 15 cases by this point last year.
The top three strains of flu seen in the Northern Hemisphere have remained the same the last couple of years, "meaning that the seasonal flu vaccine has contained the exact same formulation for the past two flu seasons," said Sharon Cameron, director of health in Peabody.
"It is likely that this milder flu season is due at least in part to increased immunity in the population from repeated exposure to the same circulating strains of flu virus, as well as to the fact that people have been vaccinated with the same formulation for the past two years."
There has been "a huge push" to vaccinate more people in the last decade or so, and that has paid off, said Susan Irving, a nurse at Beverly Hospital, certified in infection control. "We look at this as a global immunization effort, not just the U.S."
Unfortunately, the good times probably won't last.
"This year is a late start to flu season, but we're not out of the woods yet," said Dr. Barbara Lambl, an infectious disease specialist at North Shore Medical Center.
"The Centers for Disease Control has reported increasing influenza activity over the last two weeks nationwide. In California, it is really high right now. It's just a matter of a few plane rides and a couple of kids on school vacation coming home."