Metro

Flu activity continues to increase in Massachusetts

Nurse Shacuiya Lang of Brockton held an influenza vaccine kit.
Dina Rudick/Globe Staff
Nurse Shacuiya Lang of Brockton held an influenza vaccine kit.

Flu activity continues to increase in Massachusetts, leading public health officials to renew their recommendation that people get a flu shot as soon as possible to help lessen the impact of the illness and protect oneself against a second strain of the virus.

“It’s not unusual for us to see a second wave of influenza B after the wave of influenza A,’’ said Dr. Alfred DeMaria of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “We are seeing an increase in the incidence of influenza B so it could protect you from that.”

According to DPH tracking data, the number of people reporting flu-like systems to doctors, health care system, college clinics and hospitals during the past seven days increased by nearly 5 percent.

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The incidence of flu-like symptoms increased by about 6 percent in the northeast corner of the state, along the Interstate 495 corridor west of Boston and in the southeastern part of Massachusetts, but less than 2 percent for Greater Boston, according the state.

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DeMaria said those statistics suggest the rate of flu infection is starting to decline in Greater Boston while anxiety created by the health danger flu creates may have sparked people to get medical aid they might not otherwise have done.

He also said that central Massachusetts has had a consistently lower rate of flu-related illnesses during this cycle that began late last year and is, hopefully, expected to fade away by late February or early March.

“The central part of the state has been relatively spared for most of the season - it’s not clear why. But good for them,’’ he said.

DeMaria said that the current flu cycle has not yet claimed the life of a child in Massachusetts, but he noted that in past years, some 100 children fall victim to the viral infection.

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Massachusetts General Hospital has had 11 flu-related deaths this season, according to Dr. David Hooper, the hospital’s associate chief of infectious diseases.

“It is a high number, particularly since we don’t seem to have hit the peak of this season yet,” Hooper said.

Hooper said most — but not all — of the flu patients who have died at MGH were seniors.

“Seasonal influenza generally affects most severely the very old, the very young, and people with . . . chronic medical conditions,” he said. “Pregnant women are also at higher risk of getting the disease.”

He said getting a flu shot — even this late into the season — covering your mouth when you cough, and frequently washing your hands are the best protections against spreading the illness.

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The Centers for Disease Control on Friday also released an update to its weekly analysis of the flu problem nationwide, which included announcing that 16 children died from the flu across the country during the past week.

“Even more families are now devastated by the flu,’’ said Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC, who said a total of 53 children have died so far this season. “This season is a somber reminder why flu is one of the world’s greatest public health challenges.”

The rate of adult deaths attributed to flu also increased during the past seven days, rising from 9.1 percent to 9.7 percent, a percentage that is expected to increase until it reaches or surpasses the mortality rate for the 2014 and 2015 seasons, according to the CDC.

Schuchat and Dr. Dan Jernigan, who leads the CDC’s influenza division, said the flu season could persist for several more weeks, but they also noted a small improvement where the flu indicators declined in Oregon over the past seven days.

The percentage of hospital beds being occupied by flu patients rose by an estimated 39.5 percent, according to the DPH, which collects data from 50 acute care hospitals across the state.

DeMaria said the Massachusetts hospital network is currently able to handle the patient load connected to the flu.

Correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed. John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.