Flu season hits Massachusetts early as experts worry vaccine won’t match dominant strain

Massachusetts is one of four states with widespread influenza activity

A nurse practitioner prepares a flu vaccination.

The flu season is off to an early start in Massachusetts this year amid mounting concern that the flu vaccination might not be effective against the most dominant strain.

The state has seen a “very rapid increase” in influenza-like illness and a surge in confirmed flu cases, the state’s public health commissioner Monica Bharel said in a statement Tuesday. Medical experts wrote last week in The New England Journal of Medicine that there is “mounting concern” about the record level of flu in Australia after reports emerged that the vaccine there was only 10 percent effective against the dominant H3N2 strain. The American flu vaccine uses the same composition, indicating possible low vaccine effectiveness and a similarly severe flu season.


“However imperfect, though, current influenza vaccines remain a valuable public health tool, and it is always better to get vaccinated than not to get vaccinated,” the authors wrote.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health still recommends getting vaccinated even in January or later from a primary care provider, a local pharmacy, or other locations using vaccinefinder.org.

The flu season typically doesn’t peak until January, February or March. Reported instances of influenza-like illness reported in Massachusetts for the 2017-2018 season are outpacing the past two years, according to data from the department.

The department recommends people get the flu vaccine as soon as possible, wash their hands thoroughly and regularly, cover coughs and sneezes, stay home when sick with fever and cough or sore throat, and talk to a health care provider if they think they have the flu.

Common flu symptoms include a fever accompanied by a cough or sore throat, and can last a few days up to a week or more.

Massachusetts is one of four states with widespread influenza activity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its most recent weekly report. The others are Georgia, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.