The word “epidemic” sounds so dire, but the numbers don’t lie: we’re in the middle of a bad, bad flu season. Last year, Boston reported 70 cases of the flu. This year? 700. And it’s only January.
It’s the worst year for the flu since 2009, according to the Boston Public Health Commission, and it’s not just confined to Boston. Our neighbors across the river have declared a public health emergency, and given the fact that the flu hits children and seniors hardest, I think they were right to do so.
So, how do you keep the flu at bay? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a comprehensive guide, but these are the most important steps you can take:
- Get a flu shot. Let me repeat that: GET A FLU SHOT. Even if you don’t fall ill with the flu, you can still serve as a carrier for the virus, which in turn can make other people sick. BPH executive director Dr. Barbara Ferrer tells us, ‘The less immunizations that we have around people who are surrounding babies, the greater chances that small infants who cannot get immunized will get ill with influenza. So we’re urging people — whether you do it for yourself or you do it for people you love, this is the time to get immunized.”
- Once you’ve gotten your flu shot, preventing the flu almost becomes a matter of manners. Wash your hands. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Try not to rub your eyes or your nose after touching a dirty surface. The CDC has a much more comprehensive list of flu prevention techniques here, but basically, if you can do what kindergarten teachers ask of their students, you’ll help control the spread of the flu.
- Ok, so what if you do all of that and you still start to run a fever? Step one is push fluids and rest: give your body’s immune system a fighting chance. Step two is to stay home from work (or, if your children fall ill, keep them home from school). The Boston Public Health Commission reports that Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan have been hit hardest by the flu, and health officials say that’s because those communities are home to a large number of workers who get less paid sick leave than other workers. Employers need to understand this as a matter of not only their employees’ health but also of dollars and cents: one employee missing three days of work is a far more profitable scenario than a dozen employees each missing three days of work.
- Finally, and perhaps obviously, call your doctor. You may be a good fit for an antiviral drug prescription, but only a trained physician can say for sure.
Good health and good luck to all of you.