City, News

Flu cases subside in Boston, contradicting initial projections

The number of reported influenza cases in the City of Boston and in the Commonwealth has decreased in the past few weeks, suggesting that the flu season might end in a manner less severe than it began, officials said.

Nick Martin, spokesman for the Boston Public Health Commission, said the report may indicate an easier end to the flu season than originally predicted.

“Hopefully for Boston that means flu activity is slowing down and we’ve reached a peak for this season,” he said. “In which case we expect to see the numbers continue to decline in the coming weeks.”

The flu season this year is significantly more serious than in 2012, which was classified as a mild outbreak. The number of confirmed flu cases throughout the entire 2012 season was 70. So far this year there have been 2,100 confirmed cases of the flu, Martin said.

The severity of this year’s flu season is due to the H3N2 virus, which requires four strains of antigens in to produce an effective vaccination. This year’s vaccine only carries three of those strains.

However, those strains can combat about 90 percent of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In most years, the flu begins in a certain location for a course of 12 to 13 weeks. This year, the flu season started in Massachusetts five to six weeks earlier than in previous years. Therefore, the flu season is expected for the season to end six to seven weeks earlier than the years before, according to the CDC’s website.

“We haven’t seen a virus that severe since H1N1,” Martin said. Although there are now fewer flu cases on the east coast, states in the Southwest and Northwest are facing higher numbers of influenza cases. This trend is taking place because these states were hit last by the virus, Martin said.

Curtis Allen, a spokesman for the CDC, said that the flu has strongly impacted people all across the country this season.

“It started east, moving west,” he said. “Hopefully you’ve seen the worst part of the season, but then again, you can never say for sure because of the unpredictability of influenza.”

Despite the decreased risk of catching the flu, a number of students have not expressed mistrust in Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s declaration.

“You could say (the government) overreacted, but you would hope they would overreact rather than underreact,” said Kerrin Sperry, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences at Boston University.

Parker Powell, a sophomore in the College of General Studies, also said he believed the emergency declaration was not too drastic a measure.

“[The government] did what was necessary to warn the people,” Powell said.  “Even if they did over-portray [the flu season] as being bad, it was the right thing to do because it made people go out and get their flu shot, even if they didn’t want to.” The flu season is still not over though, and Powell said he is glad hegot the flu shot.

“I think it was worth getting the shot even if I didn’t get the flu, for precautionary reasons,” he said.

Hospitals are still mobilized to treat flu patients, and the government has set up free flu clinics at health centers around the city, according to the Menino’s office.

Martin said the city is prepared for a changing flu season.

“I think [the government] tries to prepare well in advance every year and flu is one of those things that is only so predictable so we keep an eye on what’s happening on a daily basis and we adjust our response accordingly,” he said.

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