By Nick Mallard
While federal health officials have added Massachusetts to the states where the flu is widespread, local doctors are saying the increase in cases is perfectly normal given the time of year.
Dr. Bruce Man, a pediatrician with Medical Associates Pediatrics in Leominster, said that while reports of seasonal influenza are "starting to kick in," it's nothing out of the ordinary.
"It's starting, but it always does this time of year," Man said Sunday. "In fact, the reports I've seen are saying it's actually down this year. It's not a big year for the flu yet."
The Associated Press reports there have been nearly 860 cases of the flu confirmed by tests so far this season, while there were nearly 6,700 in the state last season. No flu-related deaths have been reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added Massachusetts to a list of 10 states where the flu has become widespread after an uptick in activity for the week ending Dec. 21.
While the H1N1 virus -- also known as swine flu -- has turned up in some cases this season, it's easy enough to defend against. Man recommended simply getting vaccinated.
"The vaccines being used this year help prevent that," he said. "It certainly defends people against it. We've administered four to five thousand of the vaccines, but we don't see too many cases of the actual flu."
The CDC recommends vaccinations for most people, with exceptions for newborns and those who have had allergic reactions to it in the past.
The organization also says the nasal spray vaccine shouldn't be taken by children younger than 2 or adults older than 50, pregnant women or people with asthma.
More on the vaccine and flu prevention can be found on the CDC's website (www.cdc.gov/flu).
Man noted that many people report having the flu, but it tends to be some other sickness.
"You'll see people who have vomited saying they have the flu, but they don't have the high fever," he said. "And in fatal cases of the flu, it's often paired with other chronic diseases, like asthma, especially with children."