Updated: Wednesday, 09 Jan 2013, 1:07 PM EST
Published : Monday, 07 Jan 2013, 11:30 AM EST
BOSTON (WPRI/AP) — Massachusetts public health officials are reporting 18 flu-related deaths in the state already this season, and Boston has declared a public health emergency.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas Menino says the city is working with health care centers to offer free flu vaccines and also hopes to set up public locations where people can go for vaccinations. The city is reporting four flu-related deaths.
There have been about 700 confirmed cases of the flu in Boston so far this season, about 10 times more than in the same period last year.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health says the state is one of many reporting above average flu hospitalization rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned of a harsh flu season, which usually peaks in midwinter.
Typically, flu cases around the United States do not spike until mid to late February. But, for certain groups, mainly children, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, getting the flu can be life threatening.
In the last week of December, the flu was widespread in 41 states; flu-related child and infant deaths climbed to 18 and outpatient visits for flu symptoms had jumped to 5.6 percent.
In any given year, influenza deaths range from 3,000 to 50,000. Because of this year's earlier start, experts worry it could trend toward the higher side in 2013.
The CDC's Tom Skinner says "people who come down with the flu can be pretty sick," with severe muscle aches and high-grade fever lasting 4 or 5 days.
He says the vaccine is well-matched to this year's flu strains, but isn't 100 percent effective. It does reduce the severity of the illness for those who do get it, though -- so it's still worth a shot.
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