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In another sign of a rapidly worsening flu season, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency on Wednesday because of a sharp rise in cases -- and he urged his city's residents to get flu shots.
Boston has seen about 700 confirmed cases of influenza since the season began in October. That compares to about 70 cases for all of last year, said Nick Martin, a spokesman for the Boston Public Health Commission. While last year was an unusually mild flu season, according to government health officials, those numbers are worrisome.
"This is the worst flu season we've seen since 2009, and people should take the threat of flu seriously," Menino said in a news release. "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."
Flu cases have accounted for more than 4 percent of Boston emergency room visits recently, and about a quarter of those patients have required hospitalization, said Nick Martin, a spokesman for the Boston Public Health Commission. The city has recorded four deaths since October, Martin said. All of those deaths were in elderly people.
Nationwide, the flu has spread to more than 80 percent of the U.S., latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated. More than 2,000 people had been hospitalized since October, and 18 children have died.
The bad season has been blamed on an especially virulent flu strain, the A H3N2 strain. Another A strain, H1N1, and two influenza B strains are also causing illness. Vaccines prepared for this year are a good match for the viruses, although one strain of influenza B is not covered by the vaccine and may be accounting for 8 percent to 10 percent of flu cases, according to infectious disease experts.
JoNel Aleccia, NBC News