Flu season has officially begun in Massachusetts and officials are urging Boston residents to get their flu shots as soon as possible, with some researchers warning that this year’s flu season may be particularly severe.
There have been 82 confirmed cases of influenza in Massachusetts since the start of September, according to DPH statistics released last week that also state this is “within the expected range for this time of year.”
Michael Mina, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard University, said that influenza data from other parts of the world may signal that the U.S. is in for a troublesome flu season this year.
“Australia, for example, had a terrible flu season this year,” Mina said. “Often if you look at different hemispheres, you can kind of see what’s coming next. This year in particular, I think people really should make a concerted effort to try to get vaccinated.”
Martin Hirsch, a doctor from the infectious disease unit of Massachusetts General Hospital, said influenza vaccines are an important way to limit epidemics.
“It’s certainly prudent for everybody to get the vaccine and the [Center for Disease Control] and other health authorities recommend that anybody over the age of six months get the flu vaccine,” Hirsch said.
Though the effectiveness of flu shots varies each year, Hirsch said, they have a 50 to 60 percent success rate in preventing the flu for those who get it. They also protect others who don’t have the shot.
Hirsch said college students in particular need to get their vaccines as soon as possible.
“Anybody who’s in an institution, whether it be a dormitory or just where people are crowded together, is much more likely to spread influenza,” Hirsch said. “It’s a very communicable virus.”
In addition to a vaccine, Hirsch said in order to avoid catching the flu, residents should avoid crowds, get sufficient sleep and eat well. Antiviral drugs also alleviate the severity of flu symptoms.
Mina said people should get their flu shots at least several weeks before experts project that flu might hit the community.
“September or October is a good time to get [the vaccine] because that will give your immune system at least a few weeks to utilize the vaccine before you are potentially going to be exposed to the virus,” Mina said.
Mina said that although influenza vaccines do not have 100 percent efficacy rates, they are still beneficial in diminishing the effects of the virus.
“One of the really important things that people should start to consider, but don’t often consider is that flu vaccines, even when they’re not working perfectly, do reduce the duration and severity of symptoms,” Mina said. “That can’t be understated.”
Christian Schmidt, 21, of Fenway, said he is not sure where he can go to receive a flu shot.
“When I think about it, I probably should [get a vaccine],” Schmidt said. “I don’t really know places to get them.”
Mackenzie Grant, 23, of Kenmore, works at Boston Children’s Hospital and said while the flu vaccine does cause some adverse side-effects, it is still necessary to get one each year.
“[Vaccines] do prevent the flu, but they do give you the flu so like [some people] get sick for like a small amount of time.” Grant said. “But it saves you from getting the actual flu.”
David Ellison, 73, of East Boston, said he makes sure to receive the flu vaccine every year.
“I think they’re really important to have, I’ve been getting this for years, 25 years or more,” Ellison said. “Also I have asthma, so I have to make sure I don’t get the flu.”
The next Student Health Services Student Flu Clinic for students at Boston University is Nov. 4 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the basement of the George Sherman Union. SHS stated that no appointment is necessary, but asked students to have their BU ID number ready and to have something to eat before getting the vaccine.
Additionally, several pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens, also offer flu shot appointments or walk-ins through insurance providers.