Boston Public Health Commission Warns Residents About Rapid Increase in Flu Cases

The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) is warning residents of an early and rapid rise in flu cases reported across the city, with more than 700 cases of influenza reported in the last week, bringing the total number in Boston to 1,784 since October 1. BPHC has also observed a rapid increase in influenza-related pediatric hospitalizations in the past week. 

Flu season is generally considered from October to May, and usually peaks between December and February. The current levels of influenza activity are concerning, and this high level is occurring much earlier in the season than usual. Last year, the highest number of influenza cases reported in a given week was 250 at the peak of the flu season in mid-December. The data also indicate the highest number of reported cases is among children and adolescents younger than 18 years old, representing 59% of cases, as well as among Black and Latinx/Hispanic residents. The neighborhoods with the highest case rates are Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, and South End.

“With flu spreading throughout Boston at such a high rate, there’s an urgent need for more residents to get vaccinated to protect themselves and help avoid an even greater influx of cases and hospitalizations during and after the holidays,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Commissioner of Public Health and Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “I urge everyone to be safe this holiday season. Stay home if you’re sick and call your doctor to ask about treatments for flu and COVID-19, in addition to staying up to date on vaccinations, wear a mask indoors to reduce your risk of illness. 

 The Boston Public Health Commission strongly urges all residents 6-months and older get their annual flu vaccine, in addition to their COVID-19 vaccines, and that those 5 years and older get their bivalent boosters, to ensure the broadest level of protection against respiratory viral infection. The flu can be a very serious illness, especially for older adults and young children. 

Flu vaccines are free and widely available throughout Boston. BPHC has several standing, walk-in sites where residents can get free flu vaccines, as well as COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and boosters. No insurance or ID is needed:

• Josephine A. Fiorentino Community Center – 123 Antwerp St., Allston.  Open Sundays from 12-4pm; Monday-Wednesday from 9am-3pm; and Thursdays from 5-9pm. 

• BCYF Hyde Park – 1179 River St., Hyde Park.  Open Tuesdays from 12-8pm and Thursdays from 9am to 5pm.

Prescription antiviral drugs are available for people who are sick with flu to shorten the length of the illness, and to prevent severe disease and the need for hospitalization. For those at higher risk of serious flu complications, such as people 65 years and older, children younger than 2 years, people who are pregnant, and people with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease, treatment with influenza antiviral drugs can mean the difference between milder or more serious illness that may result in hospitalization. BPHC recommends that anyone who feels sick with symptoms of flu, especially those at high risk of serious flu complications, check with their health care provider promptly to ask about flu treatment. Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Other important ways to manage flu include getting rest and drinking enough water and other clear liquids to prevent dehydration.

BPHC also encourages individuals to wear high-quality, well-fitting masks to prevent the spread of the flu, COVID-19, and RSV during this holiday season. 

As residents gather for the holidays, being up to date on COVID-19 and flu vaccines and knowing how to access treatments for both illnesses if you get sick is critical to avoid severe illness and hospitalization. For information about flu treatment, call your healthcare provider. For additional information about flu or support getting a healthcare provider, call the Mayor’s Health Line at 617-534-5050.

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