Mass. Doctors Fear Flu Pandemic After Over 1,600 Cases Confirmed This Week
Bay State doctors fear this year’s deadly flu season will explode into a full-blown pandemic — with influenza sickening 1,646 people just this week.
U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey called on Congress to commit $1 billion toward the development of a universal flu vaccine to help wipe away the terrifying surge.
Massachusetts General Hospital, hosting yesterday’s press conference, has already seen 10 deaths and 150 hospitalizations related to the flu this season. Statewide, officials have recorded 5,708 confirmed influenza cases since October — and 1,646 just this week.
“We still fall so short in our response to this annual menace,” Markey said. “Flu season shouldn’t be Groundhog’s Day for our universal health community.”
A universal vaccine — which would cost taxpayers $200 million a year — would be able to treat multiple mutating strains of virus, doctors said.
And Markey said he expects Republicans in the House and Senate will recognize the dire need for a universal vaccine.
“I feel very confident that I can reach across the aisle, find Republican support, and begin to find a dedicated way to give support to these researchers,” he said.
Dr. David Hooper, Mass General’s chief of infection control, said, “This is the worst flu season I’ve seen in a number of years.”
Hooper also pointed out the surge in influenza cases is taking place well before the peak of the traditional flu season, saying, “We’re only partway there yet.”
And a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report detailing the week ending Jan. 27 shows it’s the same nationwide. Last week, 1 of every 14 visits to doctors and clinics were for symptoms of the flu, according to the report. That’s the highest level since the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic sickened millions of people worldwide.
Forty-two states reported high patient traffic for the flu, up from 39 the week before.
The strain known as Type A, H3N2, accounts for most of the cases doctors have seen this year. The fact that it’s a bad match for the flu shot is making matters worse.
“It’s less effective than some of the earlier vaccine matches,” Hooper said of this year’s vaccine, adding that it has been “all hands on deck” at MGH, where there have been 90 documented cases of influenza of hospital staff since October.
The flu has hit the Bay State hardest on the North and South Shores, the South Coast, and the immediate Metro West area, according to state data.
Doctors are urging people who haven’t been vaccinated to get a flu shot as a primary precaution. To prevent spreading the virus they also recommend diligent hand-washing and staying home and resting if you think you’re coming down with the flu.
Herald wire services contributed to this report. ___
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