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It's time to take the flu seriously

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  January 10, 2013 07:42 AM

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Okay, guys, it's time to take this flu stuff seriously.

According to the CDC, influenza cases are reaching what were peak levels during moderately severe seasons in the past. And just this week, Mayor Menino declared a flu emergency here in Boston, as the number of flu cases hit 700--which is ten times the total cases last year.

If you are one of those people who think that the flu is no big deal, you should know that 18 children have died from the flu so far this season. And there's a lot of flu season left. 
So here's what you need to do, if you haven't already, to help prevent the flu:
Become a compulsive hand-washer. Carry hand sanitizer with you, and use it regularly. You'd be amazed how effective hand-washing can be when it comes to preventing infections, especially influenza.

If you have a baby or toddler, you should be aware that the majority of hand sanitizers contain alcohol and aren't meant to be, um, eaten. Given that kids put their hand in their mouth a lot, you might be better off carrying hand wipes with you--and using every sink you can to wash your hands with soap and water. Remember that to really be effective you should wash your hands (using soap) for 20 seconds--which is more or less singing "Happy Birthday" twice or the ABC's once.

Get a flu shot! Please. I get so sad and frustrated when parents say to me, "We don't do flu shots." The flu shot can't give you the flu--and while side effects are always possible, they are usually mild and brief--much milder and briefer than the symptoms of the flu, that's for sure. To all those people who say that they got sick after getting the flu shot, I want to be sure you know that it can take a couple of weeks for the flu shot to really take effect--and since we give the flu shot during flu season, it's always possible that you could catch the flu during those two weeks. This does not mean that the flu shot gave you the flu or made you really sick. It's a coincidence.

Boston is holding free flu clinics this weekend; to find out more, call the Mayor's Health Line at 617-534-5050 from 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday, or the Mayor's 24-hour Hotline at 617-635-4500 after hours. You can also visit the online calendar of clinics.

Keep your distance from sick people. This isn't always easy to do, but do your best. In situations like these, it's really okay to ask about the health of everyone in the house before you  accept an invitation for a play date--or change your seat at the movies or in church if someone starts coughing. Smile and apologize as you do it, and white lies can help ("So sorry, but my son has a weakened immune system, we have to be extra careful, hope you feel better soon").

There is a flip side to this: if you don't feel well, or your child is sick, stay home. Don't expose people to whatever you have. If you or someone in your family has some combination of cold symptoms, sore throat, muscle aches, headaches or fever, it could be the flu. If this happens, call your doctor for advice--and to see if treatment is a good idea.

For everything you need to know about the flu, visit the flu website of the Centers for Disease Control.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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