October marks the start of flu season, state urges people get vaccinated

ATTLEBORO — October is a month for ghosts and goblins, but it also marks the arrival of flu season.

Since the start of September, there have been 82 lab-confirmed flu cases reported in Massachusetts, according to the state Department of Public Health.

The agency said the number is normal for this time of year, but is urging people to get vaccinated now to protect themselves, their families and prevent the spread of flu.

At Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, several people have visited the emergency room with flu-like symptoms with one person confirmed as having the flu, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

“We don’t know how severe this year’s flu season will be, but we do know that the flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself, your family, and everyone around you,” Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel said in a statement Monday.

“Although the flu vaccine won’t prevent every case of the flu, it’s still the most effective way to reduce your risk of serious illness,” she said.

Health officials recommend people get a flu vaccine as soon as possible. The flu vaccine is widely available across the state, including at health care provider offices, pharmacies, school and workplace vaccination clinics in addition to flu vaccine clinics sponsored by local boards of health.

A list of flu vaccine availability based on zip code can be found at vaccinefinder.org.

In order to avoid illness, people should wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, and use hand sanitizer when washing is not possible. Always cover your cough and sneeze into your sleeve, not your hands.

People should stay home when they are sick with fever and a cough or sore throat, and keep children home from school and daycare when they are sick, according to the DPH.

If you think you have the flu, health officials recommend you contact your healthcare provider promptly, especially if you have health conditions that make you more likely to develop severe illness when sick with the flu.

Last year, 81 percent of children 6 months to 17 years old received flu vaccinations in the state, which the DPH said was among the highest rates in the nation.

Flu can be very serious and even fatal. Every year in the United States, millions of people get the flu, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and thousands die from related illnesses. The most common symptoms of flu are fever, cough, and sore throat. Symptoms can also include body aches, headache, chills, runny nose, and fatigue.

Some people are at higher risk of serious health problems when they get flu, including pregnant women, infants, older adults, and people with medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and neurological and neuromuscular conditions.

Vaccination reduces the risk of flu-associated death by half among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by nearly two-thirds among healthy children. Nationwide, there were 136 pediatric deaths from flu last year.