Flu strikes Mass. amid H1N1 deaths

Sunday, December 29, 2013
By Paul Martin

Gary J. Remal
Sunday, December 29, 2013

Massachusetts last week became one of six new states with widespread reports of the flu. And experts are starting to see a trend suggesting a large part of this year’s outbreak can be traced to the deadly swine flu that has already claimed lives as it did nationwide in 2009.

Massachusetts General Hospital Medical Director for Preparedness Paul Biddinger said information on the 2013-14 flu strains are still sketchy, but this year’s flu vaccine defends against the swine flu, also known as H1N1, unlike medicines available in 2009 when swine flu ran rampant across the country.

“The numbers (of flu cases) are low because the season is starting later than last year’s season, which started particularly early,” said Biddinger, a flu expert who recently helped launch a national campaign to promote use of flu vaccines.

Last year’s early start also was seen across all strains of influenza, he said.

“It’s a little early to know what the predominant strains of influenza will be yet,” said Biddinger, also an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. “The first couple of cases were not H1N1, but more recently they have been. The good news is, H1N1 is part of this year’s vaccine, so I’d say it’s not too late for people to go get the vaccine.”

Even younger, healthy people risk serious health problems or even death, in some cases of the flu, he said. But those particularly at risk who should seriously consider flu shots include pregnant women, the elderly, very young children and anyone with chronic immune conditions, Biddinger said.

Several deaths due to H1N1 have been reported this year, most recently a Texas teen who died Thursday.

New York, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama have been reporting widespread influenza. Last week, in addition to Massachusetts, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control added Alaska, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wyoming.

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