The severity of the flu in Massachusetts has increased from moderate to high, health officials announced this month.
The number of positive laboratory tests of influenza reported to the state Department of Public Health increased last week by 31% from the week before, and positive tests of influenza A and influenza B increased by 23% and 37% respectively, according to data collected by MDPH from Jan. 12 to 18.
A Worcester County teenager, who had tested positive for influenza B, was the first flu-related pediatric death of the season in Massachusetts, state health officials announced last week. Fifty-four influenza-associated pediatric deaths in the U.S. have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this season, according to the agency’s latest seasonal flu report.
“The percentage of influenza-like illness visits for Massachusetts has increased and is higher than the previous two years in the same week,” MDPH said in its most recent weekly influenza update. “Overall influenza-like illness activity for Massachusetts remains high this week.”
The inner metro Boston region is reporting moderate flu activity, while the rest of the state is reporting a high number of cases, according to health officials.
Flu activity has remained high nationally, with influenza B being the most common virus. In recent weeks, nearly equal numbers of influenza B and influenza A cases were reported. Of the 54 who died from the flu nationwide, 37 had influenza B and 17 had influenza A.
The CDC has estimated there have been at least 15 million global cases, 140,000 hospitalizations and 8,200 deaths due to the flu this season.
“Hospitalization rates remain similar to what has been seen at this time during recent seasons and mortality, while low overall, has exceeded the epidemic threshold for one week this season,” the CDC wrote in its report.
Four flu-related deaths in Massachusetts were reported last year.
The jump in flu severity last week comes as concerns about the coronavirus grow.
The death toll from the outbreak, which started in Wuhan, China, rose to 170 on Thursday, and 7,711 cases have been confirmed globally. Five people in the United States have been diagnosed with the illness. Sixty-eight patients tested negative for the disease in the U.S., and 92 others are awaiting results, according to the CDC’s website.
At Boston Logan International Airport, a sick passenger reportedly landed from Beijing. Medical officials responded, but the person refused further treatment, officials said.
Officials have recommended people take preventative measures for both the flu and coronavirus. Healthy habits include frequently washing one’s hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoiding contact with people who are sick, staying home if one’s ill, covering one’s cough or sneeze with a tissue and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Those who have not received a flu shot have been urged to get vaccinated. All influenza strains in Massachusetts this season are covered by the current influenza vaccine, according to state health officials.
People who think they have the illness should contact their health care provider, officials said.
“Every year in the U.S. seasonal flu causes thousands of hospital admissions and deaths,” MDPH’s website says. “Getting an annual flu vaccine is the best protection.”