(NECN) - Prompted by an ugly flu season, Boston officials declared a public health emergency Wednesday.
City officials say they're working with health care centers to provide free influenza vaccines this weekend, and have set up a 24-hour hotline for residents who have flu-related questions.
So far, there have been 700 confirmed cases of the flu so far this season in Boston, which have resulted in the deaths of four elderly residents since October. This is in comparison to last season, which saw only 70 cases of the flu and one flu-related death in the city, according to Boston Public Health.
This follows earlier news from the state's Department of Public Health of a total of 18 flu-related deaths in Massachusetts so far this season.
"We need everyone to help prevent the spread of flu this season. We all have to take care of each other and work together. The best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family is to get the flu shot," Boston Mayor Tom Menino said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
City health centers providing free flu shots this weekend include the Dorchester House.
"It's not too late to get your shot," Dorchester House Executive Director Walter Ramos said. "This is a very good vaccine, we know it's a good vaccine, and to protect yourselves, your family, your loved ones, please come in and get your flu shot."
The City of Boston's website has a complete list of health centers providing free flu shots this weekend and in addition has set up a hotline for residents to call at (617) 543-5050.
Boston Public Health suggests steps residents can take to avoid getting the flu include washing hands with soap and water, and to try not to touch eyes, nose or mouth.
"This is an economic issue besides a health issue," Menino said, alluding to the time workers will need to take off in order to recover from the flu.