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Flu Health Emergency: Is Worcester Next?

Thursday, January 10, 2013


The City of Worcester is in the midst of what public health officials describe as a “mild to severe” flu season. Since September 1, a total of 361 cases of influenza have been confirmed in the city. The statistic represents a massive increase from last year, when there was only one confirmed case over the same time period.

“Comparing last year’s numbers to this year’s reveals a very different story,” said Derek Brandisi, Director of Public Health for Worcester.

While Brindisi says last year’s figures were an anomaly, he acknowledges that the already high number of cases will likely continue to rise. Brindisi says flu season typically begins in mid- to late-September, peaks in the end of January to early February, and runs through April.

Emergency In The State’s Capital

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency in Boston Wednesday morning. Since October 1, there have been approximately 700 confirmed cases of the flu in Boston, a ten-fold increase when compared to the 70 cases confirmed all of last flu season.

“This is the worst flue season we’ve seen since 2009, and people should take the threat of flu seriously,” said Menino. “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.”

According to the Mayor’s Office, flu cases are now accounting for over 4 percent of all emergency department visits at Boston hospitals, compared to about one percent during non-influenza season. Since October 1, four Boston residents, all seniors, have died from flu-related illnesses.

No Messing Around At UMass Memorial

After recognizing the increases in flu outbreaks nationwide, UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester has taken proactive measures in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve.

“With the number of and severity of reported flu cases across the country, the state and the region, UMass Memorial Medical Center is changing some of our visitation policies to decrease the potential exposure to staff, patients and visitors,” said Rob Brogna, Media and Public Relations Manager. “This is a practice we have used many times in the past when cases of flu have surged in the region.”

Brogna says that in order to protect the Hospital’s patient population from acquiring the flu while in the hospital, a “flu season” visitation policy has been implemented.

“Except under extraordinary circumstances, visitors are being limited to immediate family, only two per patient, those who are 14 and older, those without fever, cough or respiratory symptoms and those visitors who have had no contact with someone with flu-like illness in the last two days,” said Brogna.

Protecting The Public

Back in December, physicians from the Massachusetts Medical Society urged the public to get vaccinated for the flu season. Members of the MMS say the flu causes more than 200,000 hospitalizations annually and is often linked to pesky complications like pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and dehydration.

Experts say vaccination is the best method of flu prevention. Good hygiene habits, like washing hands often or using hand sanitizers are also effective. To reduce the risk of spreading germs, people are advised to cough or sneeze into arms instead of hands and to stay at home when sick.

Flu vaccines are available in locations all over the city. You can view the flu vaccine finder here.


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