Infection preventionist Michael Raczynski gives a flu shot to Dr. Arthur Turton, former chairman of the board for Northern Berkshire Healthcare, earlier in the flu season.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A particularly severe flu season may soon be coming to an end.
The number of confirmed cases appear to be dropping across the state in February after record high numbers of cases were confirmed in the first two months.
Locally, Berkshire Medical Center has seen a total of 229 cases of influenza since the beginning of the flu season with 33 people being admitted.
At North Adams Regional Hospital, there were 146 total cases. However, NARH has only seen 14 cases so far in February compared to 86 last month and 46 in December.
Berkshire Medical Center saw 118 cases with 15 admissions from December to mid-January and from Jan. 10 to Feb. 13 there were 111 cases.
While the numbers haven't gone down drastically, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has reported that the season is waning and the state is in a "low activity stage."
Michael Raczynski, infection preventionist at North Adams Regional Hospital, said a sign that the season is coming to an end is that he has gone full days without seeing a influenza patient, which wasn't the case just a month ago.
The decrease was significant enough in North Adams to lift restrictions on visitations put in place early last month that limited the number and ages of visitors. Visiting policies can be found at www.nbhealth.org.
"Things are finally settling down," Raczynski said on Wednesday. "I'm hoping we are near the end of this."
While BMC has also seen somewhat of a decline, spokesman Michael Leary said the hospital is not quite ready to lift its visitor restrictions.
"Indications are that the rate is starting to decline, but only a continuance of lower numbers will tell us for sure if the season is beginning to end. What has made this season particularly challenging is that it came early and the past two years were very light flu seasons, so when it hit at a moderate level, it was much more severe than the past few years," Leary said in an email.
But with optimism, both hospitals say residents should remain cautious and use good hand hygiene, avoid going out if one has flu-like symptoms and for those who haven't already, get a flu shot.
"If people haven't had their flu shot, please do," Raczynski said, adding that even those who have had the flu this season but not the shot should still get it because there are cases of people getting both A and B strains.
The flu hits children and elderly particularly hard. This year the flu started earlier than normal but could be ending earlier than the typical season — which runs through March. February is typically the peak month.
"The flu season started earlier than normal, and it does appear to be waning earlier than its regular timeframe," Leary said.
Leary warns that transmission of the flu "may still be an issue for local schools." BMC is holding a free pediatric flu vaccine clinic on Saturday at the hospital from 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. for children ages 3 to 18.
In North Adams, the Visiting Nurse Association is still offering walk-in clinics on Tuesdays and Thursdays (Feb. 14, 26 and 28) from 3 until 4 p.m. at the hospital.
Raczynski said many of his patients have already had their shots this year because there was "a lot more education about it" as well as heavy media coverage. However, both hospitals don't want residents to forget about it when the next season comes.
"We want to stress that it’s always a good idea to act proactively in trying to prevent transmission of the flu, in any year, through vaccination and other precautions. If you are eligible to receive the flu vaccine, we recommend that you do so, regardless of the severity of the flu season," Leary said.