Boston declared a public health emergency Wednesday as the city tried to deal with a harsh flu season and the state reported 18 flu-related deaths so far.
The city is working with health care centers to offer free flu vaccines and also hopes to set up places where people can get vaccinated. The city said there had been four flu-related deaths, all elderly residents, since the unofficial start of the flu season on Oct. 1.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said there had been about 700 confirmed cases of the flu in Boston so far this season, compared with 70 all of last season.
Massachusetts was one of 29 states reporting high levels of “influenza-like illness,” according to the most recent weekly flu advisory issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC said the proportion of people visiting health care providers with flu-like symptoms climbed from 2.8 percent to 5.6 percent in four weeks. By contrast, the rate peaked at only 2.2 percent during the relatively mild 2011-2012 flu season.
The estimated rate of flu-related hospitalizations in the U.S. was 8.1 per 100,000 people, which is high for this time of year, according to Dr. Joe Bresee, chief of the epidemiology and prevention branch of the CDC’s influenza division. The agency’s next advisory will be issued Friday.
“This is the worst flu season we’ve seen since 2009, and people should take the threat of flu seriously,” Menino said in a statement. “This is not only a health concern, but also an economic concern for families, and I’m urging residents to get vaccinated if they haven’t already.”
Menino also urged people to stay home from work or school if they are sick.