Flu season is here and Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) officials are recommending that everyone take steps to prevent the spread of flu by getting vaccinated now.
Today marks the start of the state’s flu surveillance monitoring and reporting for the 2018-2019 season. In conjunction with its many partners, DPH uses multiple surveillance methods including lab testing, voluntary reporting by health care providers on the proportion of patients presenting with influenza-like illness, and reports from emergency departments on flu-related hospitalizations. Already, since the start of September, Massachusetts has had nearly 80 lab-confirmed flu cases reported, well within the expected range for this time of year.
“Last year’s flu season was among the most severe on record and getting the flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself, your family, and everyone around you,” said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH. “Although the flu vaccine won’t prevent every case of the flu, it’s still the most effective way to reduce your risk of serious illness.”
DPH recommends that people:
- Get the flu vaccine as soon as possible.
- Wash hands thoroughly and regularly, and use hand sanitizer when washing is not possible.
- Cover their coughs and sneezes.
- Stay home when they are sick with fever and cough or sore throat, and keep children home from school and daycare when sick.
- Contact their healthcare provider promptly if they think they have the flu, especially if they have health conditions that make them more likely to develop severe illness when sick with the flu. The provider may prescribe antiviral medications, which work best when started early in the course of illness.
“We’re glad that Massachusetts flu vaccination rates among children and adolescents were among the highest in the country last season, at almost 75 percent,” said Dr. Larry Madoff, Director of the DPH Division of Epidemiology and Immunization. “But vaccination for people of all ages is critical to reduce everyone’s risk of health care visits and hospitalizations due to the flu. Getting vaccinated also helps protect your friends, your family and your community.”
Flu can be very serious. The most common symptoms of flu are fever, cough, and sore throat. Symptoms can also include body aches, headache, chills, runny nose and feeling very tired. Every year in the United States, millions of people get the flu, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands of people –and sometimes tens of thousands – die from flu-related illnesses. Those at higher risk of serious health problems when they get the flu include pregnant women, infants, the elderly and people with medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, neurological and neuromuscular conditions and weakened immune systems.
Flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu-associated death by half among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by nearly two-thirds among healthy children. Nationwide, there were 180 pediatric deaths from the flu last year and approximately 80 percent of those who died did not receive a flu vaccine.
Flu vaccine is available across the state at multiple locations, including health care provider offices, pharmacies, school and workplace vaccination clinics, and flu vaccine clinics sponsored by local boards of health. A list of flu vaccine availability based on zip code can be found at https://vaccinefinder.org/.
For more information about influenza, visit www.mass.gov/flu. For questions, call your health care provider, local board of health, or DPH at 617-983-6800.