Health & wellness

Flu numbers starting to climb in Mass.

A nursing student gave a flu shot at a clinic in El Dorado, Ark.
Associated Press/file
A nursing student gave a flu shot at a clinic in El Dorado, Ark.

The flu virus has been relatively kind to Massachusetts so far this season, but state public health officials are concerned that may 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 numbers begin to slowly climb.

“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.


Last year, 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 along the state’s Northeast region. But it has yet to gain a strong foothold in Central and Western Massachusetts, and along Southeastern communities, the numbers show.

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

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

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 year’s match was not a particularly good one for older adults, with the US Centers of 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.

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