Flu season hitting Northeast later this year

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a health emergency after more than 700 flu cases had been reported. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)/ MET
Boston, MA 011213 People wait in line for free flu shots at the Dorchester House on January 12, 2013 after Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a health emergency after more than 700 flu cases had been reported. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)/ MET
The Boston Globe

Flu season hit Boston early and hard last year, but this year the season hasn’t started yet in the Northeast—and isn’t likely to peak until February or March. That means there’s still time to get a flu vaccine if you haven’t already, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a press briefing on Thursday.

Vaccinations “prevented 6.6 million illnesses from flu last year and almost 80,000 hospitalizations,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, citing estimates from a new CDC report. “But we know we can do better.” Fewer than half of Americans over six months of age received a yearly flu vaccine last year —despite CDC recommendations to get one. As of mid-November, only 40 percent of Americans have been vaccinated.

(About 37 percent of Americans were vaccinated at the same time last year.)

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“If we could have reached 70 percent last year, we would have prevented an additional 4.4 million illnesses and 30,000 hospitalizations,” Schuchat said.

Last year’s flu season was moderately severe: 381,000 people were hospitalized and 165 flu-related deaths occurred in children. That likely also led to a higher estimates of hospitalizations and illnesses prevented due to vaccinations, said CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden. (Three children have died so far this year from the flu.)

Of particular concern: pregnant women and healthcare workers still aren’t getting vaccinated in high enough numbers. Only 40 percent of pregnant women have gotten a flu shot this year even though they face a higher risk of serious complications from the infection, and 63 percent of healthcare workers have gotten the immunization to keep from spreading flu infections to their patients.

“Put a flu vaccine on your holiday shopping list,” Schuchat recommended. While plenty is still available now, many clinics ran out last year as people rushed to get immunized just as those around them were starting to get sick.

Here’s where to find a flu shot in your local area.