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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

Flu virus gathering strength in Mass.

Infections being reported across state, and officials expect cases to rise

The flu virus has been relatively kind to Massachusetts this season, but state public health officials are concerned that might soon change.

Reports from physicians and community health centers show the virus has infected residents in just about all corners of the state, and there have been a few hospitalizations, as the number of cases begins to slowly climb.

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“The flu is just getting started, and it’s diffusely occurring across Massachusetts, but the trajectory is just starting to take off now,” said Dr. Alfred DeMaria, the state’s top disease tracker.

In 2012, the flu caught many off guard, roaring to life several weeks earlier than normal, creating a wide swath of misery over the December holidays. This season, elevated numbers of flu-like illnesses have been reported around Greater Boston, in the city itself, and in the state’s Northeast region. But it has yet to gain a strong foothold in Central and Western Massachusetts or in southeastern communities, the numbers show.

Health officials track the numbers weekly, with the newest data to be posted Friday, and DeMaria expects the number of infections to increase by then.

While many typically get their flu shot in the fall, it is not too late to get one, and there is plenty of supply out there, he said.

“It takes 10 to 14 days to get the full immune response from the shot,” DeMaria said. “Even getting the flu shot, you can still get the flu, but it will make it a milder case, so that can be advantageous.”

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How well the flu vaccine works — its ability to prevent flu illness — can range widely from season to season, as scientists try to match each year’s batch of vaccine with the strains of virus they believe will be widely circulating.

Last season’s match was apparently not a particularly good one for older adults, with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later reporting that it was only around 10 percent effective for those over age 65.

But federal health officials still encourage older adults to get vaccinated because they are at greater risk for more severe cases and complications from the flu.

Officials said it is not possible to predict which flu viruses will predominate throughout this season, making it hard to know at this point whether this year’s vaccine will effectively protect against the germs. But they recommend the shot for all patients 6 months and older.

Kay Lazar can be reached at Kay.Lazar@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.

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