If it seems like half your coworkers are out sick, or you can’t ride the Red Line without someone having a sneezing fit, you’re right. Doctors are seeing an increase in cases of the flu and upper respiratory infections in their patients.

If it seems like half your coworkers are out sick, or you can’t ride the Red Line without someone having a sneezing fit, you’re right. A lot of people are getting sick – colds, flu, respiratory infections and what could politely be called stomach distress.


“Flu season up until now has been relatively mild,” said John Jacob, spokesman for the state Department of Public Health. “In the past few weeks, we have seen in increase in flu activity.


That’s not surprising, Jacob said. Flu season usually peaks in February or early March, and the recent upsurge in flu cases follows the same pattern as last year.


In Massachusetts, the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza reported to the department each week rose consistently at the end of January and into early February, with a significant increase between the week ending Jan. 17 and the week ending Jan. 24. These cases do not include people diagnosed based on symptoms rather than lab tests, or those who never visit their doctor at all.





DOSE OF INFORMATION



CDC's weekly flu report


Mass.gov on how to stay healthy






Dr. Sharon Giordani, the emergency room director at Quincy Medical Center, said flu season this year was very light until mid-January, when she began seeing an increase in patients with the flu as well as upper respiratory infections.


“I was actually surprised when I started to see the positive flu (test results) coming in in late January,” she said. “We tend to see them earlier.”


Some doctors’ offices have not yet experienced an influx of patients coming in with the flu, though they expect cases to increase in the next few weeks. Dr. James Christian, a pediatrician at Quincy Pediatric Associates, said his office had not seen a lot of the flu, but he and his colleagues were bracing for it. Christian said he had seen an increase in cases of the common cold, as well as stomach bugs that can cause vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain.


Dr. Shikha Merchia, who practices internal medicine at Harbor Medical Associates in Braintree, said she had many patients with upper respiratory infections like bronchitis, and with sinus infections.


Doctors say you can still get a flu shot, and it helps.


Doctors are still recommending flu vaccinations for children, the elderly, and anyone at risk of developing complications from the flu. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended flu shots for children ages 6 months to 5 years, but this year it is recommending them for ages 6 months to 18 years.


“It seems that the vaccine that is recommended is very effective this year,” said Christian.


Health officials on Tuesday reported a 12-year-old Boston boy had become the first child flu death this season. State Public Health Department spokesman John Jacob said four Massachusetts children died from the flu last season.


To avoid getting the flu, the Department of Public Health recommends frequent hand-washing, covering your mouth with the crook of your elbow rather than your hand when you cough, and staying home from work if you’re sick.


Julie Onufrak may be reached at jonufrak@ledger.com.