Saturday January 19, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- A handful of nurses -- a "flu crew" -- administered 49 influenza vaccinations during a community clinic Friday at the Hillcrest Campus at Berkshire Medical Center. There were 400 doses available.

Of those vaccinated, 60 percent were under 65 years old, Berkshire Medical Center spokesman Michael Leary said.

Seven Berkshire Visiting Nurses administered the vaccinations as people trickled in. In previous years, flu vaccinations weren't readily available in area pharmacies, so the association's flu clinics had "people lining up," said Cindy Croce, one of the nurses who's been involved in organizing the clinics for about eight years.

"It's been a steady flow today," she said. "We're not the only show in town anymore. We used to be."

Since September, the Berkshire Visiting Nurses Association has administered 649 shots at general community flu clinics, Leary said. The state Department of Public Health is describing this season's flu bug as geographically widespread, but of moderate intensity.

This year is setting up to be one of the most severe years for the flu, which has arrived earlier than in previous years. There are 760 cases in Western Massachusetts this year and 18 reported flu-related deaths statewide.

The intramuscular shots contained one B-strain, and two A-strains: A killed H1N1 virus, and a killed H3N2 virus.

"The H3N2 strain is the one that's been causing 90 percent of the illnesses," Croce said. "It's a nasty little strain."

George Stevens, one of the older patients, received a flu vaccination at the clinic Friday to ensure he has a healthy trip to Chicago next month.

"I like to stay portable," he said.

Stevens used to get the flu vaccines every year, he said, but didn't get one last year, which only saw 24 cases in Western Massachusetts when flu season peaked.

The statewide rate of laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu dropped for the second straight week, according to a report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The rate of flu-like visits and laboratory-confirmed flu hospitalizations have also both dropped.

Western Massachusetts had 205 new cases last week, with other cases suspected and not accounted for.

According to representatives from Berkshire Medical Center and North Adams Regional Hospital, there have been 50 new cases since last Thursday.

Information from Fairview Hospital was not available by press time.

Hospitals have implemented visitation restrictions in response to the high number of flu cases, which includes restrictions on visits from children. North Adams Regional Hospital is restricting access from children under 14 years old.

North Adams Regional will also limit visits to two patients at one time in most cases.

Fairview Hospital has implemented visitation restrictions on individuals under 18.

Mary-Jane Sackett, the public health nurse for the city of Pittsfield, said that in addition to the vaccines, good hygiene also plays a part in avoiding the flu bug -- always wash your hands and avoid touching your face, she said.

"That should be an important component, not just the vaccine," Sackett said.

The next flu clinic in the area is Feb. 1 at Berkshire Southern Regional Community Center in Great Barrington.