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Plymouth Public Health Dept.: Guard yourself from the flu

Plymouth Guide - 12/12/2017

PLYMOUTH – Don't translate the news that this year's flu vaccine is only minimally effective into an excuse not to the get the shot or take pro-active measures to guard yourself, your family and your community from this annual assault.

That's the message from Nate Horwitz-Willis, Plymouth's director of Public Health.

Horwitz-Willis says that nationally the flu is arriving a little earlier and staying a little longer every year, possibly due to climate change. But that doesn't mean there aren't actions you can take that can dramatically reduce the likelihood that you, and those you come in contact with, will contract influenza.

The most important measures, besides getting the shot, are literally "hands-on."

"One clearly effective thing you can do is to take every opportunity to wash your hands and when you do so to wash them for at least 20 to 30 seconds," Horwitz-Willis said.

Feel a sneeze coming on? "Don't sneeze into your hand," Horwitz-Willis said. "Sneeze into your forearm or the inside of your elbow."

That way if you have a virus you won't transfer into your hand, then distribute it to every door handle, elevator button and counter you come across.

And if you come across fewer door handles, elevator buttons or counters you'd be less likely to spread or pickup any viruses. The best way to do that is stay home when you have a fever, cough and/or sore throat.

That's the insidious nature of the flu; it makes us sick enough to feel miserable, but not miserable enough to stay home.

If someone is worried he has the flu and doesn't want to spread it, or afraid he might contract it, is it over the top to do what so many people in Asian countries do, wear a surgical mask?

The director says that the evidence of the effectiveness of masks is not there yet, but that he is in favor of any and every method for reducing the spread of the virus, including getting the shot this year despite indications that it is said to be only 10 percent effective.

"It is important to consider the effect that these measures can have on others, not just yourself." Horwitz-Willis said. "Think of the protection it affords your children, older people, individuals with compromised immune systems."

Another important action you might consider, Horwitz-Willis says, is reporting any respiratory illness or flu-like ailment to your physician.

Oftentimes, whether we have the shot or not, when we become ill at this time of year we simply ride it out, don't go to the doctor. Consequently the scope of an outbreak is more difficult to determine.

As of this past Thursday Horwitz-Willis had not seen any reports of Plymouth residents having contracted the flu.

"One of the important roles of a public health department is communicating. In this case communicating with residents about what the best preventative measures are and how to apply them, and communicating to town leadership how the community is doing," Horwitz-Willis said.

For more information, contact the Plymouth Public Health Department at 508-747-1620, ext. 10118, your healthcare provider or the Massachusetts Department of Public Health at 617-983-6800.

For more information about influenza visit www.mass.gov/flu.

Follow Frank Mand on Twitter @frankmandOCM.


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