A particular strain of the influenza virus has spread to 47 states resulting in more than 2,000 people being admitted to hospitals. Boston has been one of the hardest hit cities reporting more than 700 people sick from the flu. During the same time period in 2012, there were only 70 reported cases in the city.

Flu-Map

Flu activity across the U.S. reported by the CDC

On Wednesday, Jan. 9, Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency for Boston which gives the local government power to quarantine residents if necessary. Although in this case, it’s meant to convey the message about the danger of flu and the need to get vaccinated. “I got my flu shot, and I’m asking every Boston resident over the age of six months to do the same,” Mayor Merino stated.

Traditionally, flu season peaks in February and at this rate The Center for Disease Control estimates up to 50,000 deaths from flu are possible. The average flu season lasts about 12 weeks and this is just Week 5.

Currently, there are three types of flu reported in the U.S.: H3N2, H1N1 and Influenza B, with H3N2 being by far the most common and most likely to put more people in the hospital with complications. All three strains of virus are included in the current flu vaccine. However, only about 20% of the U.S. population opts for the flu vaccine and both the CDC plus Preparis Emergency Management Consultant, Bryan Hill, recommend vaccination as the primary method for flu prevention. “It’s never too late to get vaccinated,” Hill said, “even if you’ve already had the flu.”

Hill suggests the following actions to keep your whole office healthy this flu season.

Get vaccinated. The CDC offers resources to help contact your local health department to coordinate vaccinations (link to CDC site for workplace flu prevention). Employees may be more likely to get vaccinated if employers host a vaccination at their office, and even offer the vaccine to employees’ family members.

“Social distancing” or keeping a person who shows signs of flu away from coworkers will aid in prevention. Make sure your staff knows the company sick leave policy, or propose an alternative work option. Let employees work in a secluded part of the building or work from home. They need to know they don’t have to come to the office if they’re feeling sick.

Cover your mouth when you cough, wash your hands, and be sure to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Be sure the percentage of alcohol in hand sanitizer is at least 60%, as an antibacterial hand sanitizer won’t kill the flu because it’s a virus.

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