Cases of influenza, more commonly known as the flu, have more than doubled in Massachusetts this winter, and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has called this flu season the worst in 10 years.
At East Boston Neighborhood Health Center Roberto Mastroianni, a doctor of nursing practice, had a feeling this year’s flu season was going to be bad.
“I had my first confirmed case back in August,” said Mastroianni inside EBNHC’s Gove Street clinic last week. “We are getting lots of influenza-like symptoms, and our lab has been running tons of rapid tests that are coming back and confirming the flu, so there is a pretty high prevalence in the community right now.”
The flu is a contagious disease that can be serious. Every year, millions of people get sick, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and thousands to tens of thousands of people die from flu.
“We have not seen any complications or deaths in the community from the flu,” said Mastroianni. “However, there have been some deaths in Massachusetts that have scared a lot of people. In fact there was a death in my community. My son’s music teacher who was 68 years old developed complications and passed away. So yes it can be serious.”
Mastroianni said while flu outbreaks and the media’s coverage can be scary, the best way to protect yourself and your family is to get vaccinated.
“It’s not too late,” he said. “I encourage everyone to get the flu shot because it is the best way to protect yourself. Also, if you end up developing the flu it’s going to be far less severe if you have been vaccinated.”
Ideally people should get the flu shot before flu season is in full swing, usually before December. However, with an increase in flu Mastroianni said EBNHC is doubling down to get the word out to those who have yet to be vaccinated.
“There are a lot of people out there that read stories that the flu shot is not effective this year, or it gets you sick and then there are the people who say, ‘I never get the flu so why should I get the shot?’, said Mastroianni. “My answer to them and my message to the community is you don’t want to be the person that avoids the flu shot and then develops complications from the flu down the road or pass it to a loved one that ends up developing complications like an elderly parent.”
Mastroianni said the flu shot this year protects people from three different strains of the flu that are most prevalent right now in the world. However, if you have not been vaccinated and develop the flu you should avoid contact with others, stay home and away from school or work, drink plenty of fluids and get rest until you feel better.
“Some of the symptoms of the flu and the common cold overlap,” said Mastroianni. “However, with the flu you are also going to experience a very high fever, body aches, and headaches.”
Mastroianni said there are some key things to look out for when sick with the flu.
“You don’t want to ignore worsening symptoms like shortness of breath, a high fever that doesn’t go away with medicine, or the inability to eat or drink…those symptoms are concerning,” said Mastroianni.
For those people who are high risk of developing complications or start to develop complications from the flu they should seek medical treatment.
“Those patients will be put on antiviral medications to combat the flu complications,” said Mastroianni. “We had one patient that was high risk and was given antivirals and made a full recovery.”
While the Health Center has not conducted a community-wide flu vaccination event like years past, Mastroianni said all are welcome to get their flu shots at EBNHC.
“It is recommended that adult non-health center patients call Adult Medicine at 617-568-4401 so that they can be booked into a flu clinic opening,” he said. “Walk ins for non-health center patients are not encouraged due to difficulty in coordinating with staff and potential delays for the person requesting the shot. Anyone accompanying a health center patient to a visit can always receive a flu shot if they desire.”