Health Officials: Ugly Flu Season Ahead

(NECN: Ally Donnelly) - Flu season is definitely underway, and it's expected to get ugly this year.

The man in the blue woolen cap was standing outside the CVS on Centre Street in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. He laughed, "I haven't gotten it yet. Thank God." He may be one of the few healthy people left in Massachusetts.

Caitlin, leaving CVS looking exhausted, mumbled, "Horrible, it's terrible."

Health officials say this flu season -- arriving weeks ahead of schedule -- could be the worst in a decade. According to the CDC -- there have already been 18 pediatric deaths and outpatient hospital visits have more than doubled nationwide. In Massachusetts, in the last week of December, there were 1,826 confirmed flu cases, compared to this time last year, when there were just six.

Dr. Zandra Kelley of the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center says they’ve had to call in extra staff to deal with all the patients complaining of flu like symptoms.

"A lot of body aches, high fevers," she said.

Health officials are trying to keep pace -- one Pennsylvania hospital set up a kind of tent city outside the ER to deal with the crush of flu patients, in Maine doctors are putting off non-essential surgeries to deal with flu overflow, and rehab and nursing homes both there and here in Massachusetts have put themselves under quarantine, asking visitors to stay away.

Dr. Al DeMaria with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health lamented it’s flu season, but a bad one, "People are out sick, kids are home from school -- it's very, very disruptive," he said.

Patients have been crowding local ERs, but doctors say if you can keep down fluids and food and are going to the bathroom normally, you don't need to rush in; however, if you're one of those populations like the elderly, you have an underlying health condition or are a small child, doctors want you treated with anti-virals right away. For everyone else -- Dr. Kelley said -- it's the same old advice -- wash your hands frequently, cough into your arm and -- above all else, go get the flu shot.

"Every year people die of the flu," she cautioned. "So I would say the flu shot is extremely important. People may still get the flu and they may get one of those strains that's not quite as bad, they'll still feel horrible, but but they will not wind up in the hospital."

If you are already in the throes of the flu and feeling helpless, why not use your down time to plot revenge? Facebook has a new app called My Friend Gave Me the Flu. It culls your friends status updates for flu-related posts and presents likely suspects. When I got sick the app told me it was NECN's Lauren Collins that passed on the bug! She, of course, denies it.

"I swear it wasn't me!" she insisted after a live shot. What-evs, germ spreader, what-evs.

And, yet more bad news. Dr. DeMaria says we’ve still got another three to five weeks of flu season and the peak is still to come in the next week or so.

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