As New Englanders, not only do we have a long, cold, snowy winter ahead of us, but we also have to be prepared for the coughing, runny noses, headaches, and fevers of flu season. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), October and November isthe best time to get vaccinated for the flu. To protect employees from the illness, the Boston University Occupational Health Center will administer approximately 1,100 flu shots free of charge to faculty and staff while supplies last.
“We are dedicated to keeping our employees healthy, and the more people in the community who are protected, the less chance of spread,” says Cheryl Barbanel, a School of Medicine associate professor and director of the Boston University Occupational Health Center. “The single best way to prevent the flu is by getting the flu vaccine each year.”
The CDC Web site states that the flu vaccine prevents influenza in about 70 to 90 percent of healthy people under the age of 65. The shots contain inactivated, or dead, viruses, so there is no risk of getting the flu from the shot itself. Once administered, it takes about two weeks for the antibodies to develop in your body that protect against the flu virus.
“Anyone who wants to decrease the risk of getting the flu should consider getting one,” says Barbanel, noting that between 5and 20percent of the population get the flu every year.
“Flu is spread mainly person to person through the coughing and sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people can become infected from touching something that has flu viruses on it and then touching their mouths or noses,” she says. “Most healthy adults may be able to infect others from one day before they are sick to up to five days after they are ill. That means you are able to pass the infection on before you even know you are sick!”
Flu vaccines will not protect against flu-like illnesses that are not caused by influenza. The symptoms of influenza and the common cold are similar, but with the flu come fever, headaches, and muscle aches. To better understand whether you have the flu, visit the Boston Public Health Commission’s Web site.
If you decide to forgo the vaccine, there are several preventive measures you should take, according to Barbanel, including cleaning your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based cleanser, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, and if possible, staying away from people who are sick.
She says flu complications include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, including congestive heart failure, asthma, and diabetes.
For more information about scheduling a flu shot, watch for an e-mail from the address firstname.lastname@example.org with a listing of appointment dates and times. If you do not have e-mail, contact the BU Occupational Health Center at 617-353-6630. Students can obtain the flu vaccine from Student Health Services.