Flu hits Martha’s Vineyard hard

Island health officials say the flu season is off to a fast start on Martha’s Vineyard, though it’s too early tell if the rest of the winter will be as severe.

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.

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.

Ms. Bardwell said some patients reporting the flu are also suffering from a norovirus, a separate form of stomach flu that has been in the headlines lately because of outbreaks on cruise ships.

State health officials say a large number of flu cases are being reported throughout the state, and 18 people have died from the virus.

“It’s consistent with earlier years that have been characterized as moderately severe, but it’s too early to know,” state Bureau of Infections Disease director Kevin Cranston said. “Those rates may continue to go up, we may hit a peak, and they may start to come down.”

Wednesday, Boston declared a health emergency, after more than 700 cases were reported in the city.

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.