Frederica Williams, president of the Whittier Street Health Center in Boston’s inner-city Roxbury neighborhood, said her facility had opened a special flu clinic and was using social media and sending letters to residents urging them to come in and get flu shots.
“We serve a vulnerable population that is at risk for all kinds of health issues, so we put out a broadcast to our patients even before the mayor made the (emergency) announcement because we saw an increase in the number of people coming to our clinic for services.”
Williams estimates that the number of patients who have come to the clinic seeking treatment for flu-like symptoms is triple that of the same time a year later.
Hospitals around the state were also taking precautions to protect patients and staff from exposure to the flu.
Baystate Health, which operates Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and two other hospitals in western Massachusetts, announced Wednesday that it was changing its visitor policy. The hospitals will no longer allow visitors younger than 14 and are recommending no more than two people visit a patient at one time.
“This is the worst in several years,” said Dr. Sarah Haessler, an infectious disease specialist at Baystate. She said the flu outbreak has strained the hospital’s resources and helped to fill its beds to capacity.
Nationally, health officials have been urging people to get flu shots while cautioning that vaccines will not guarantee prevention of all illnesses. But 91 percent of the flu viruses that have been analyzed by the CDC were include in the 2012-2013 influenza vaccine.
“I hate needles, and I got (a shot),” Gov. Deval Patrick said Wednesday, adding that he was not aware of any shortages of vaccine in the state. He also reminded residents to use common sense, such as washing their hands and sneezing into their sleeves.
As of Friday’s report, the CDC said 18 children had died from the flu so far this season. While the CDC does not keep a tab of deaths overall from the flu, it estimates that 24,000 Americans die each year.