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Boston under emergency for flu

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 6:40 p.m.
Four-year-old Gabriella Diaz sits as registered nurse Charlene Luxcin, right, administers a flu shot at the Whittier Street Health Center in Boston, Mass., Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Boston declared a public health emergency Wednesday as the city tried to deal with a harsh flu season and the state reported 18 flu-related deaths so far. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

BOSTON — Massachusetts' capital has declared a public health emergency on Wednesday as flu season has struck in earnest.

The state has reported 18 flu-related deaths so far.

Boston officials are working with health care centers to offer free flu vaccines and to set up places where people can get vaccinated. There have been four flu-related deaths, all elderly residents, since the unofficial start of the flu season Oct. 1.

“The best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family is to get the flu shot,” said Mayor Thomas Menino.

The state capital is experiencing its worst flu season since at least 2009, Menino said, with about 700 confirmed cases, compared with 70 all of last season.

Barbara Ferrer, director of Boston's public health commission, said the emergency was declared to get attention. She said the confirmed cases represent only those reported, but thousands of other people might be ill.

Massachusetts is one of 29 states reporting high levels of “influenza-like illness,” said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's weekly flu report.

The CDC said the proportion of people visiting health care providers with flu-like symptoms climbed from 2.8 percent to 5.6 percent in four weeks. The rate peaked at only 2.2 percent during the relatively mild 2011-12 flu season.

City, state and federal officials have all identified a Type A influenza known as H3N2 as the predominant strain this season.

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