Mayor Menino declares public health emergency, flu outbreak expanding

Sneeze_in_white_hankieMayor of Boston Thomas M. Menino has declared a public health emergency due to the expanding flu outbreak. Boston has already seen 700 confirmed cases of the flu, 18  resulting in deaths. That is 10 times as many cases Boston confirmed last year. In response, health care centers will offer free vaccines to anyone who has not been immunized.

This flu season is on pace to be moderately severe, on its way to be more severe than average but still not unprecedented in severity. The flu season has been accompanied by a significantly large number of norovirus cases, an intestinal illness, said Cranston, of the Department of Public Health.

What has been the bright side of this flu season is that the strains of flu virus were anticipated, and 91 percent of the viruses found in testing this year are well-matched to the vaccine. But hospitals and other health care facilities are still taking extra precautions, limiting visitors who may potentially infect sick or elderly patients with the virus. This is the same procedure they followed during the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic.H1N1 Fact Box

UMass Memorial Medical Center this week decided to completely ban children under 16 from visiting hours, since kids frequently contract the virus in school. Patients are also only allowed to have two visitors at a time. “This is something we do during any type of outbreak,” Robert Klugman, a doctor and the hospital’s chief quality officer, said.

Even without formal visitor restrictions, most hospitals have been stopping anyone who’s coughing or sneezing, keeping a close eye on visitors' health statuses in order to make sure it does not spread within the hospital. “We will be monitoring closely and ramping up as needed,” said Thomas Sandora, an infectious disease specialist and doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital.

A health care provider at Upham’s Corner Health Center tweeted on Tuesday, “We’re moving patients out of waiting rooms ASAP to avoid further infections.”

Doctor visits for flu-like illness (i.e. fever, body aches, coughing, runny nose, and fatigue) is now above 4 percent and is still climbing, according to the latest data from the Department of Public Health. Last year, barely more than 1 percent of doctor visits were due to the flu at the season’s peak.

 

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