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Mass. Officials Confirm 14 Flu Cases

December 16, 2003

BOSTON (AP) _ People in Massachusetts are suffering the fevers, aches and coughs of the flu as the disease has arrived unusually early and hit especially hard this year, state public health officials said Tuesday.

So far, there have been just 14 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza in Massachusetts, but officials said this is probably just a small fraction of thousands of cases of the disease.

At a meeting of the Public Health Council, Department of Public Health officials recommended that people at high risk seek out flu vaccines and that healthy people between the ages of 5 and 49 consider Flu Mist, a new vaccine spray administered by a squirt up the nose.

The officials said the state was seeing ``regional″ flu activity, one step below the highest category of ``widespread″ activity.

Public Health Commissioner Christy Ferguson said there was no crisis but public health officials were ``very concerned″ and were keeping a close eye on developments.

``Things could change in a very rapid way and we want to be on top of it as quickly as possible,″ she said. ``Everyone should do everything they can to protect themselves from this virus.″

Of the 14 confirmed cases, 12 are of a strain called H3N2, which emerged in 1968 and may result in pneumonia or death. One case is the so-called ``Hong Kong″ flu, and one had not yet been identified. The state has not had any confirmed cases of the ``Fujian″ flu strain blamed for the deaths of at least 11 children in the western U.S.

The flu’s arrival was the earliest since 1976 and the outbreak looks as if it is the worst in at least the past five years, DPH spokeswoman Roseanne Pawelec said. With the deaths reported among children, the flu season has drawn a lot of attention nationwide in recent weeks _ and a high demand for flu vaccines.

The number of states with ``widespread″ infections has nearly doubled to 24 in the past week, and the season has not yet peaked nationally, according to federal health experts.

Massachusetts has so far seen one death from complications from the flu _ 18-year-old Worcester State College student Jeffery Donahue, who died last week, state health officials said.

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