The Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and town health agents have combined to offer a free Island-wide flu clinic for children and adults, at 9 am, Sunday, January 13, in the physicians’ wing, in the old section of the hospital.
The clinic will close at 2 pm, or earlier once the vaccine runs out, a hospital official said.
The clinic was quickly organized in cooperation with health agents in the six Island towns, in response to an escalating outbreak of flu across the state, most notably in Boston.
Wednesday, Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino declared a health emergency, after more than 700 cases were reported in the city.
In December, doctors at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital diagnosed 31 cases of the flu and admitted three patients to the hospital.
“It started earlier, usually we don’t see it in December, and we saw a significant rise,” said Carol Bardwell, chief nurse executive at the hospital.
Hospital chief quality officer Dedie Wieler said a review of Island flu cases revealed that approximately half of those treated had not had a flu shot.
Tim Walsh, hospital chief executive officer, asked hospital staff to organize a free clinic, but a hospital inventory showed only about 50 shots available, Ms. Wieler said.
Hospital officials, working with Island health agents on Thursday, who also had access to vaccine, decided to pool their resources in one central location, to make getting a flu shot convenient for anyone who wants a shot, she said.
Ms. Bardwell said if patients are experiencing coughing and fever, it is important to see a doctor, because this strain of flu responds well to medication.
For more information, call Martha’s Vineyard Hospital at 508-693-0410.
Health officials have recorded 18 deaths from influenza so far this season, according to state Bureau of Infectious Disease’s director Kevin Cranston. While it’s still too soon for a full assessment, the flu season is “off to an early start” and is so far “consistent with a moderately severe season,” Mr. Cranston told reporters on Wednesday.
The epidemic is region-wide, and the deaths have occurred “overwhelmingly among oldest individuals,” Mr. Cranston said. The hospitalization rates are also “significant.”
In addition to influenza, the state has experienced an outbreak of norovirus, also known as the stomach flu. “We’ve seen a lot of norovirus this year,” Mr. Cranston said.
“It’s consistent with earlier years that have been characterized as moderately severe, but it’s too early to know,” Mr. Cranston said. “Those rates may continue to go up, we may hit a peak, and they may start to come down.”
Thursday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) announced actions to increase access to flu vaccines and promote awareness across the state.
“Getting vaccinated is the single most effective way to protect against the flu,” said DPH interim Commissioner Dr. Lauren Smith. “The good news is flu vaccines are widely available, and it’s absolutely not too late to get a flu shot in order to protect yourself and your loved ones.”
DPH reported it has distributed more than 760,000 doses of pediatric and adult flu vaccine to date to clinical providers and public sites, including local boards of health, community health centers, Visiting Nurse Associations and homeless shelters this flu season.
In a press release, DPH said it “is working with all local boards of health to help them offer additional public flu clinics in their communities in anticipation of expanded demand for vaccinations. DPH is assisting in ensuring vaccines are available, providing forms and informational materials in multiple languages and providing technical assistance to support insurance reimbursement for vaccine.”
This is the strongest flu season nationally and in Massachusetts in several years, DPH said. The latest statewide data shows that rates of flu-like illness are on the rise in Massachusetts, earlier in the flu season than in recent years.
The most recent weekly flu report shows that there have been more than 6,000 laboratory confirmed cases of flu in Massachusetts. Participating health care providers indicated that more than 4% of all office visits consist of patients reporting flu symptoms. Flu can be unpredictable, however, and it is too soon to tell if flu rates will continue to rise or have reached their peak.
Nationally, anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 influenza deaths are estimated to occur each year, varying with the severity of the season.
Besides getting vaccinated, there are other steps that individuals can take to prevent the spread of flu. These include frequent hand washing with soap and warm water, covering a cough or sneeze with a sleeve rather than the hands, and staying home from work or school if sick.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, flu symptoms can include cough, fever, sore throat, body aches, chills, diarrhea, or vomiting. Doctors advise that if you experience several or more of these symptoms, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people.
Young children, elderly people, and pregnant women are at greater risk of contacting the flu, and should contact a doctor immediately if they experience flu symptoms.
More information on flu is available at www.mass.gov/flu.