With colder weather comes flu season, and the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health is working to ensure that residents get flu shots to arm themselves against the potentially debilitating virus.
Because children and seniors are the groups most susceptible to the flu, the NABH has been offering a series of flu clinics at schools and senior centers across the region.
"The flu kills a number of people each year, and having a preventive program is a wonderful thing," said Karen Bernhardt of Nashoba Nursing Service. "It's the single most effective means of preventing the flu."
While Bernhardt says that children, seniors and those with asthma are especially susceptible to the flu, she emphasizes that flu shots are recommended for everyone.
And for those who get sick, there are simple steps to take to avoid spreading the flu, Bernhardt said.
"If you're sick, stay home, keep your mouth covered to keep from spreading germs, and avoid busy places," she said.
Carol Horgan, from NABH, said the Associated Boards of Health has worked to give clinics in all 15 member towns over the past few weeks.
"They're very important for everyone, from school-aged children right up to adults, and especially people with chronic diseases. A lot of times people will get the flu and it can turn into pneumonia," Horgan said.
Harvard Director of Council on Aging Debbie Thompson said their last flu clinic was one of the busiest yet. "Last week, we had a flu clinic and we had 70 people here or more," she said.
Shirley Board of Health advises people to remember to wash their hands frequently during the winter months since more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized due to the influenza virus each year.
"We haven't seen any cases of the flu yet, just some 24-hour stomach bugs, but that doesn't mean they won't come," Laura A White Elementary School nurse Patricia Langston said. "Usually, around the end of November, when it gets colder and people are cooped up more, we start to get a few cases."
Patience Amoakohene from Apple Valley Center in Ayer said she has not found any cases of the flu yet. "We provide flu vaccinations to patients, employees and volunteers," she said. "Some people like to wait to get the shot so we will provide them through the end of the season, which is May."
Amoakohene added that seniors are much more susceptible to the flu, "due to their immune systems being weaker than someone around 40 years old or so."
Jane Sullivan, with NABH, advised anyone seeking a flu shot at this point to go to their primary- care physician or a local pharmacy hosting a clinic for a flu vaccination.
Although Harvard, Shirley and Ayer have already held their flu clinics, residents can attend those for any of the towns that belong to the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health including Ayer, Groton, Harvard, Pepperell, Shirley and Townsend.
Bernhardt said makeup clinics will most likely be scheduled in the coming weeks. She said if people miss the clinics, they can get the vaccine any time throughout the flu season, which ends in March.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, "Influenza activity is low in the United States, but is expected to increase in the coming weeks. Yearly vaccination is the first and most important step in protecting against flu."
Julia Kacmarek contributed to this story.
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