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Editorial: Fighting back against the flu through vaccination

A sign, top left, in the emergency waiting area directs those with flu symptoms to wait in a separate area Wednesday at Cooley Dickinson Hospital.There is also a hand sanitizer and a sign describing how to "cover" your cough to help prevent the spread of disease. 
JERREY ROBERTS

A sign, top left, in the emergency waiting area directs those with flu symptoms to wait in a separate area Wednesday at Cooley Dickinson Hospital.There is also a hand sanitizer and a sign describing how to "cover" your cough to help prevent the spread of disease. JERREY ROBERTS

Back to school can mean back to bed — or to the doctor or hospital, as people in close contact spread illnesses like the flu. As we make our way through a particularly rough influenza season, the return of college students is likely to ramp up the spread of the disease.

We think that makes this a good time to offer a refresher course on flu avoidance and prevention.

As a report on Page One today explains, the flu season started early and is claiming more victims than in recent years. After his city logged a tenfold increase in flu cases, the mayor of Boston declared a public health emergency. Locally, cases are running ahead of last year. As of Wednesday, 15 people had been treated as inpatients at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton for the flu. Last year, the hospital saw just one admission for the malady.

And so far this year, 18 people have been killed by the flu in Massachusetts.

If all those statistics don’t raise alarms, you may already have a fever.

The incidence of flu is widespread this year in more than 40 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after a relatively slow start to the season.

To respond, communities are expanding flu vaccination clinics and, in hospitals and health-care settings, working to avoid contagion. Several Valley hospitals are altering their visitation policies to contain the disease, though that is not the case yet at Cooley Dickinson.

Each year, those responsible for developing the flu vaccine try to anticipate what forms of the virus will be dominant. There are reports that this year’s vaccine is well-matched to strains circulating. Still, many fail to take the precaution of receiving the vaccine through any of the means by which it can be delivered, including a painless aerosol.

Public health officials are issuing needed reminders that it is not too late to be protected — though time is running out. It takes roughly two weeks for the body to develop antibodies to the flu after the vaccine is administered. These innoculations work by delivering a small amount of a dead form of the flu virus and are said to be suitable for anyone age 8 and over who is not allergic to eggs.

As college students return from their holiday visits across the state and nation, they can be expected to serve as vectors of disease, bringing the flu to the Valley in significant numbers, health officials caution.

With the incidence up over recent years, local workplaces will have to cope with more sick workers. The wise ones will take steps to make it easy for employees to sanitize their hands. People who get sick with the flu should do all they can to stay home and avoid transmitting the disease to co-workers.

Reports gathered by Bob Dunn for his story today say flu symptoms come on fast and are familiar — high fever, body and muscle aches, cough and chills.

Merridith O’Leary, Northampton’s public health director, predicts that the worst of the flu season is yet to come in the Valley. To avoid becoming one of its victims, protect yourself, and those you care about, by getting a flu shot.

The city is offering a free clinic for vaccinations Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Florence Community Center at 140 Pine St. Another will be held the same day at the Greenfield Savings Bank branch at 325A King St. in Northampton from 9 a.m. to noon, sponsored by the VNA & Hospice of Cooley Dickinson. Those with health insurance are urged to bring their membership cards; the shots cost $30 for those without coverage. Most pharmacies these days also offer flu shots for a fee.

We applaud the swift response by local organizations to make vaccines more available. It takes only a few minutes to guard yourself against days or weeks of misery — or worse.

Related

Severe flu season responsible for 18 Massachusetts deaths

Thursday, January 10, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — With about two months still remaining, the 2012-13 flu season is already shaping up to be one of the most severe in recent memory. Eighteen people have died in Massachusetts from the flu, according to the state Department of Public Health, and in Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency for the city, which has reported …

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