If you have not had your flu shot this year, it may be a good time.

The 2018-2019 influenza season announces it as being severe and health officials warn that virus-related activity, which can cause coughs, body aches and fever, will likely increase over the next few years. weeks.

"All indications are that the flu season is bad and that it is likely that it will continue to worsen for at least two weeks," said Dr. Larry Madoff, director of the division's Epidemiology and Immunization Department of Health. Public Health, told Boston.com.

In fact, this looks like the 2017-2018 season, during which more people died (about 80,000) and were hospitalized in the United States because of the flu than any other influenza season in decades.

Madoff warned that the flu-like illness reports recorded last week in the state indicate that Massachusetts is "on track" for a season comparable to last year.

"We do not expect us to reach the top," he said. "The peak usually peaks around that time or in the next few weeks. So I think we hope it will continue to increase for at least some time and that we will see more cases of influenza. "

According to the Ministry of Public Health, the northeastern and southeastern regions of the state experience the highest rates of influenza-like illness.

One thing that looks different from last year, however, is that fewer people seem to be hospitalized with the flu, according to Madoff.

"The difference is not huge, but there is a little less hospitalization," he said. "And that may be because the flu virus we're seeing this year is the H1N1 virus – the virus that appeared during the 2009 pandemic. And this virus tends to affect younger people more than older. "

Hospitalization rates, on the other hand, tend to be higher among seniors, as they are more likely to have serious complications from the flu, Madoff said.

"The people most immune to this influenza strain are the elderly," he said of the H1N1 virus. "And as you get older, the level of immunity decreases. Now, the number of people immunized and exposed to this strain of influenza has increased in recent years, but this strain of the H1N1 virus is still likely to affect younger people more. There is no hard line, like the under 30s or something like that, it's just an increase with the decrease in age. "

Last year, the dominant influenza strain in circulation was H3N2, which generally tends to cause more serious illness and a more severe season. In addition, the vaccine against the virus was not as well associated with the strain as it was hoped for.

According to Madoff, the effectiveness of this year's vaccine is probably not really known for two weeks.

"It's always difficult to predict how effective the vaccine will be, and it varies every year, from one year to the next," he said. "Until now, the best indication we have is that the circulating strains seem to match the vaccine strains on the antigenic level. So that's a good thing – it tends to bode well for the effectiveness of vaccines. But we do not know it yet and we probably will not have data on it for a few weeks. "

According to the CDC, Massachusetts is one of the states with high levels of influenza activity.

The federal agency predicts that activity for the virus across the country will likely increase over the next few weeks and that "the most intense influenza activity will occur from now on." the end of February ".

"We're right up there," Madoff said of the national perspective. "It tends to be concentrated right now in a belt from south to northeast, so we're in that belt and we're certainly seeing a bad flu season here in Massachusetts. not as serious as in other states, but that's all. "

Considering that the flu is likely to last for weeks or even months, there is still time for you to get a flu shot, if you have not already done so, he said.

"It takes a few weeks to reach maximum efficiency, so doing it now is a good idea," Madoff said. "We always want to urge people to wash their hands and / or alcohol so they do not put flu in their mouths, noses, eyes, or to touch contaminated surfaces. And to avoid spreading the flu to others, cover your coughs and sneezes and stay home if you're sick. This is important for your own health and also prevents you from spreading the flu to those with whom you work, go to school or with whom you have social contacts. "

Anyone at risk for serious influenza illness, such as young children, heart disease, asthma or immune system disorders, should contact their doctor if they suspect they are contracting the virus.

Do not know where to get the flu shot? Simply enter your postal code to find a point of sale near you: https://t.co/tIaCIwwnfv pic.twitter.com/HHQnjwjnCB

– Mass. Public Health (@MassDPH) December 4, 2018