By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — With Massachusetts heading for perhaps its worst flu season in years, the city’s Health Department is taking additional steps to ensure its citizens are able to beat back the bug this winter.
Newburyport Health Director Robert Bracey said yesterday the health department has posted several educational and informational listings regarding the influenza virus on the city website advising and recommending city residents and city employees take all necessary precautionary measures to protect themselves and their families against the influenza virus.
“The city health department will in the next few days be in contact and have discussions with all health care facilities, day care centers, school nurses and Anna Jaques Hospital to collect data on confirmed influenza cases in the city of Newburyport,” Bracey said in an email.
In light of what seems to be the worst flu season in the last few years, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino yesterday declared a public health emergency in the city. The Menino administration reported 700 confirmed flu cases among Boston residents since Oct. 1, a 10-fold increase over the 70 cases confirmed over the entire last flu season.
Boston’s mayor urged people with the flu to stay home and avoid going to work or school.
“This is the worst flu season we’ve seen since 2009, and people should take the threat of flu seriously,” he said in a statement.
The heightened alert status exhibited by Newburyport, Boston and other municipalities across the state makes sense, according to the state’s Bureau of Infectious Disease after reports of cases continues to spread across the state.
“It’s consistent with earlier years that have been characterized as moderately severe, but it’s really too early to know, because those rates may continue to go up; we may have hit a peak and they may start to come down,” Bureau of Infectious Disease director Kevin Cranston told reporters yesterday.
The state has already registered 18 deaths from individuals with flu-like symptoms, and for every 1,000 hospital beds there are more than 40 hospitalizations for flu-like symptoms, which include respiratory problems and a fever, according to a presentation Cranston made to the Public Health Council yesterday morning. Cranston said the deaths occurred among older individuals.
If the number of infections continues to grow, Massachusetts could experience the first severe flu season, since the H1N1, or swine flu, pandemic in the spring and into the fall of 2009.
“It certainly looks like we’re in the direction to be similar,” interim Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Lauren Smith said.
Bracey said the city has an ample supply of influenza vaccine and is still offering free flu shots by appointment with the public health nurse.
“The city health department strongly encourages all residents, especially individuals with certain medical conditions, compromised immune systems and children to be vaccinated against the influenza virus and advises everyone to constantly wash hands frequently and often, especially before meals,” Bracey said, adding there are six to eight more weeks left in the flu season.
Bracey added that although there are several influenza strains infecting people this year, the influenza vaccine is 91 percent effective against what appears to be this year’s predominant strain, Type A H3.
An Anna Jaques Hospital spokesperson could not comment on the hospital’s plans and statistics on local cases by presstime.
The State House News Service contributed to this report.