Flu prompts public health emergency; Mass General taking steps to control outbreak

As of and including January 13, Mass General has identified 618 cases of the flu during this flu season from testing and has admitted 196 people. The 2011-2012 season identified 79 cases, the 2010-2011 season identified 436 cases, and the 2009-2010 season identified 492 cases. The number of flu admissions in 2011-2012 was 29; 2010-2011 had 162; and 2009-2010 had 103.

"Since it tentatively looks like last week may have been the peak, we would project about 1,000 total Mass General cases for the full season," saysDavid Hooper, MD, chief, Infection Control Unit. "That is about the same as 2004-2005 but lower than 2007-2008."

Mass General is taking steps to control the outbreak:

*The department of Obstetrics and Gynecology plans to limit visitors to the OB Maternity and Labor & Delivery areas.

*Signage continues to be posted widely throughout the hospital that discourages all visitors from visiting if they have a cough or fever. If they do visit, they are asked to wear a mask and perform hand hygiene.

*An estimated 85% of Mass General employees have received the flu vaccine to date. Staff members who have not been vaccinated must wear a mask when providing care to any patient to protect the patient from a healthcare worker in case they are incubating flu.

*All staff (vaccinated or not) should be wearing a mask when caring for patients with flu or suspect flu.

The flu vaccine is still available at Mass General.  It is not too late to receive the vaccine for it to be effective. "Vaccines are not 100% effective but they do provide benefit in the majority of people who receive them," says Hooper. "Even if the flu vaccine does not fully prevent getting the flu, there are good data to suggest it makes the disease milder."

If you have a serious medical condition or are pregnant and suspect you're coming down with the flu, contact your medical provider as soon as possible. An otherwise healthy person should drink plenty of fluids, stay home from work, and monitor temperature. Call your doctor if you're not feeling better in a few days.  For more information, visit the websiteMassGeneral.org/flu