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Flu Outbreak Hitting State and County Hard

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
03:38PM / Thursday, January 10, 2013
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Infection preventionist Michael Raczynski gives a flu shot to Dr. Arthur Turton, chairman of the board for Northern Berkshire Healthcare.The VNA is offering a clinic on Friday at its offices on the North Adams Regional Hospital campus.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — North Adams Regional Hospital has seen 10 times the amount of flu cases this year than last.

The country is being hit with a flu epidemic and Massachusetts is reporting the highest number of cases recorded, including 18 deaths.

As of the end of December, just one month into the flu season, a total of 3,736 patients in the state have laboratory confirmed cases of the flu but that is just the surface of the outbreak because most cases are home treated.

Locally, North Adams Regional Hospital is reporting 46 cases, which is an increase from five at this time a year ago. According to infection preventionist Michael Raczynski, those numbers do not include patients seen at doctor's offices, which keep their own numbers.

Raczynski said the bug is stronger and more prevalent than recent years and the hospital is taking steps to limit the spread there — including limiting visitations particularly in the maternity ward.

"We don't want people with the flu coming in to visit patients," he said.

The hospital's Facebook page asks those visiting patients "to leave children under the age of 14 at home. And, please limit visitors to two at a time. Thanks!"

The hospital has previously limited visitations a few years ago when the threat of H1N1 was prevalent (a strain that's making the rounds this year as well).

"We are not at a state of emergency but we are taking extra precautions," Raczynski said, later adding that "it is certainly a stronger flu."

Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield has seen 118 lab-confirmed cases of the flu with 15 of those being admitted to the hospital.

According to Michael Leary, director of media relations for Berkshire Health Systems, the hospital is also implementing restrictions on visitors to only allowing those over the age of 14 and are asking anyone with flu-like symptoms to postpone visits.

"BMC, as part of its comprehensive infection control planning, is prepared to care for patients in need of hospitalization as a result of the flu, whether it is a mild or heavy season. We adjust our planning appropriate to the conditions and prepare in advance for the event of a heavier season like this year’s," Leary said in an e-mail Thursday.

The city of Boston has declared a state of emergency after 700 cases were confirmed, up from 70 last year, and four people, all senior citizens, had died. The flu is particularly hitting elderly the hardest.

"We've lucked out as far as for children, so far," Raczynski said. "I am hearing that quite a few of the elderly have been vaccinated for it and are still getting it."

The flu season has yet to even peak, which typically happens in February.

"The heat of the flu season is generally from January through March, and this season the flu has struck earlier and is more severe than in many past years. This has become even more noticeable as last year was an exceptionally mild flu year," Leary said.

But it isn't time to "panic," Raczynski said but he advocated for residents to get the flu shot, if they haven't already, and try to limit the spread but staying out of the public if they have symptoms.

"There are a lot more downsides to getting this flu than getting this shot," Raczynski said.

Primarily, getting the flu shot is the best way to avoid it but Raczynski said residents should practice the "common sense things" like hygiene to stay safe: wash your hands, get a flu shot and stay home. Leary suggested the same, recommending a gel-based alcohol rub.

For those who have yet to get the flu shot, the Visiting Nurses Association and Hospice of Northern Berkshire will have a clinic on Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on the hospital campus. There is no charge for the vaccine. More clinics are listed here.

In Pittsfield the Berkshire Visiting Nurse Association is holding a flu vaccine clinic on Friday, January 18 from noon until 3 p.m. at the BMC Hillcrest Campus. No appointment is needed and those who are on Medicare or Medicaid are told to being their card. All others will have to pay $30.

"I would continue to stress that anyone who has not received the flu vaccine and is eligible should receive the vaccine. If you are allergic or have a reaction to eggs or egg-like products, you should not get the vaccine," Leary said.


Tags: flu,   influenza,   outbreak,   

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