(Updated at 3:18)
I just checked the Massachusetts Department of Public Health weekly flu report, and the graph above made me say, "Yikes." As in, all those anecdotes we've been hearing are not just anecdotes. This is really looking like an unusually early and heavy flu season in Massachusetts, and there are similar reports of early flu spikes from other states. (See our earlier post: Why Get A Flu Shot Now: Unusually Early Season, Already Here.)
As the DPH explains, the graph above measures reports of patients with "flu-like illness" — so they may have other viruses — from a network of "sentinel sites" believed to be representative of the population at large. The X axis represents weeks of the year, and the Y axis represents the percentage of patients seen at those practices who report flu-like symptoms. The DPH notes that the graph shows that flu-like illness "continued to increase and is much higher than what is typically seen at this time of year."
But that dry public-health language does not capture the widespread misery of this nasty virus season. You may get a better sense of it in this excerpt of an email from a CommonHealth reader: "Just thought I’d report that there seems to be a huge spike in the flu – despite vaccinations – I can’t get over how many people seem to be coming down with severe symptoms."
Some of those people had gotten the vaccine already — and apparently enough people have been wondering whether the vaccine really protects them that the DPH offers an explainer here: Can you still get the flu even if you have been vaccinated?
Readers, what are you seeing?
Here's WBUR's latest on-air report:
Flu season has hit with a bang. The state department of public health reports a dramatic spike that began about two weeks ago. WBUR's Martha Bebinger has more.
Health officials say doctors are seeing three times as many patients with the flu and flu-like symptoms as they did this time last year. Al DeMaria is the state epidemiologist:
"This year we have to be especially worried because of the widespread nature of the activity, the very early peak and the intensity of the flu activity that we're getting indications of now."
Although some doctors disagree, DeMaria says this year's vaccine is a good match for most of the reported flu cases. While the vaccine is not 100% effective, DeMaria urges anyone who hasn't had the shot to get it.
This program aired on January 4, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.