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Boston Declares Health Emergency Due To Massive Flu Outbreak 316

Posted by Soulskill
from the what-animal-can-we-blame-this-year dept.
skade88 writes "Boston has seen 10 times more flu cases this year than last. They are now up to 700 cases and counting, with 18 deaths in the city. The city of Boston has declared a public health emergency in the wake of the epidemic. 'The CDC said the proportion of people visiting health care providers with flu-like symptoms climbed from 2.8 percent to 5.6 percent in four weeks. By contrast, the rate peaked at only 2.2 percent during the relatively mild 2011-2012 flu season. The estimated rate of flu-related hospitalizations in the U.S. was 8.1 per 100,000 people, which is high for this time of year, according to Dr. Joe Bresee, chief of the epidemiology and prevention branch of the CDC’s influenza division. The agency’s next advisory will be issued Friday.' As previously discussed on Slashdot it would also be nice for your friends and coworkers for you to stay home if you are sick."
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Boston Declares Health Emergency Due To Massive Flu Outbreak

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  • Good Advice (Score:3, Informative)

    by masternerdguy (2468142) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @06:00PM (#42538337)
    Why do people wait for an epidemic to stay home when they are sick? If you are sick, don't go out! If you do, you are part of the problem.
    • Re:Good Advice (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross&yahoo,ca> on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @06:02PM (#42538351)

      Beep wrong answer in America...

      Most workplaces don't have paid sick leave. Honestly, it is what it is, and this what Americans want. Hence this is what America gets.

      • I am an American. By the way, many companies will punish you for coming to work sick now, especially in retail and food service positions where you might infect the customers.
        • Re:Good Advice (Score:5, Insightful)

          by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross&yahoo,ca> on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @06:08PM (#42538459)

          "many" does not imply policy. I have American friends and lived there for a while. The problem is that folks want to earn a living and either they take it from their vacation (which people do not want to do) or they just come to work and hide it as best as they can.

          I find your comment quite odd on how society deals with a problem. They punish, instead of just changing policy into a better policy. Either way there are society costs. At least with sick paid leave people will be assured that they can continue to earn a living.

          • Most American employees work for someone who offers sick leave. However, most larger organizations also charge the first day or two against personal leave (aka vacation) to prevent abuses. Often this day will be "refunded" if people get a doctor's excuse.
            • Re:Good Advice (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @06:29PM (#42538857)

              Oh yes, the doctor's note. Well isn't THAT just a wonderful thing to go get. Let's take a look at my options:

              1. Lie in bed, eat some nyquil and chicken noodle soup, and sleep the sickness away to let your body heal.
              2. Sit in a waiting room for 6 hours, surrounded by dozens of people sick with everything under the sun while you're immune system is compromised, only to have a doctor look at you for 3 seconds, tell you you have a cold or whatever, followed by paying $30 for the doctor's note. After that, I can go home after essentially putting in the equivelant hours of a full day's work surrounded by sick people, get nowhere even remotely close to enough sleep and rest to heal, and be 10 times as sick due to the dozen other things I caught.

              Yeah, option 2 sounds awesome, thanks workplace.

            • by gv250 (897841)

              Most American employees work for someone who offers sick leave.

              I used to believe that. However, I've recently worked for two fortune-100 companies, and one startup spun off from one of them. In each of these companies, leave is called "PTO" or "paid time off." The idea is that you have a single account for earned time off -- you use it whether you are sick or on vacation. In essence, you are required to use vacation days for *every* sick day.

              • Re:Good Advice (Score:5, Interesting)

                by AaronW (33736) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @07:16PM (#42539637) Homepage

                I ran into this too when I went to work for a large networking company in Silicon Valley (competitor to Cisco). Anyway, after I joined I learned that they combined their sick leave and vacation pay and as it was the vacation was not all that generous. Of course the first thing that happens is I get the cold from hell. Next I find out that they have mandatory vacation days which were at odds with some trips I had planned and paid for long before I started working there (and told them about up front). Needless to say, I was happy to leave there over that and numerous other bonehead policies. They mandated that everyone take the week off of the 4th of July (3 days of vacation wasted) as well as the week of Labor Day (4 more days of vacation wasted).

                Many other large companies also do not offer sick leave, even food chains like Red Lobster and Olive Garden.

        • Re:Good Advice (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Trepidity (597) <.delirium-slashdot. .at. .hackish.org.> on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @06:09PM (#42538485)

          But by default you won't be paid if you stay home, so there's still an incentive to try to come in and hide it if you feel you're at all on the borderline, and to come back as soon as you no longer look visibly sick (even if you're still contagious).

          Some employers do give their employees a certain number of sick days to reduce that incentive, but labor law in most states doesn't require it, and many employers don't. For example, neither Starbucks nor McDonald's offer sick days to their retail workers. Oddly, they do offer sick days to their non-retail workers (office employees, e.g. accountants, managers, etc.), despite those employees not being customer-facing. Perhaps they care about whether corporate HQ is sick more than whether customers get sick. :P

          • Some employers do give their employees a certain number of sick days to reduce that incentive, but labor law in most states doesn't require it, and many employers don't.

            The worse place I worked at thought they'd be smart and reward people who stay healthy by combining 2 weeks vacation and 2 weeks sick time into 4 weeks of combined sick and vacation time. Instead, people scheduled 4 weeks of vacation at the beginning of the year, and they all had to come in even when violently sick so as to not use up their "vacation" time. You would not believe the amount of wheezing and coughing on a daily basis.

            • The worse place I worked at thought they'd be smart and reward people who stay healthy by combining 2 weeks vacation and 2 weeks sick time into 4 weeks of combined sick and vacation time.

              I've seen places try to be even "smarter" and combine 2 weeks vacation and 2 weeks sick time into 3 weeks of combined "annual leave" or "paid time off".

        • by Jetra (2622687)
          They punish you if you take a sick day, they punish you if you come in sick. Do they expect you to be 100% until you're dead?
        • Re:Good Advice (Score:5, Insightful)

          by vlm (69642) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @06:23PM (#42538761)

          I am an American

          Are you sure?

          By the way, many companies will punish you for coming to work sick now

          That is easily the strangest thing I've ever heard. I've literally never heard of such a thing in all my decades.

          I think we're more likely to see the Republicans convert en mass to Islam or we'll see Karl Marx carved into mt rushmore before any american company will try to increase sick days taken. Its just too easy of a metric to grade "resources" and their supervisors.

          I really have to point out, that having had the actual real flu in the past, if you have it, you'll be so sick there is no way you'll make it to work unless you're Hercules himself. If you're physically able to go to work, trust me, its almost certain you just have a minor cold or a minor cough or at most a weak case of walking pneumonia. If your only symptom is you have a slightly stuffy nose, thats a cold, not the flu. When your fever is 103+ and you feel like you can barely get out of bed and you feel like you're about to cough out a lung, now thats the start of the flu.

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            Yeah, as someone who had the real flu a few years ago I agree. The best description I ever heard was "The first few days I was afraid it would kill me, after that I was afraid it would not."

        • Got a cite or a link? Is this a survey of formal policies, or just a set of asshole bosses?

      • by sl4shd0rk (755837)

        and this what Americans want.

        No, actually this isn't what Americans "want". The corporate policies pretty much force a take-it-or-leave-it policy. I think the last explanation I heard from HR when griping about benefits being cut (yet again) was "Be glad you have a job in this economy".

      • Even places that do have paid sick leave, its rationed. So I will make a decision, each time I'm sort of sick, whether or not its worth it to use one of my 5 sick days, or whether I think I'll get REALLY sick in the future and should save for that day.

        Employers need to actively encourage/have contingency plans for sick people. Especially for office workers, to have a working telecommuting policy/system in place so that a person can not only easily work from home on a mildly sick day, but be encouraged to
        • Re:Good Advice (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Captain Splendid (673276) <capsplendid@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @07:11PM (#42539569) Homepage Journal
          5 sick days? Jeeebus.

          Granted, I'm a small business, but I'll give any employee whatever time they damn well need to not look like shit in my office and probably make the problem worse by infecting others.

          Hell, even for lower grade stuff, I'd still rather you got some rest for a day or two instead a week spent int he office delivering subpar work.

          It's more cost effective for me in the long run to provide sane sick leave instead squeezing the ju-uice. Being a boss with a shred of humanity is just icing on the cake.
      • My employer here in California actively encourages people to stay home when sick. They recently did the move where personal time and sick time got combined, but they increased the accrual rates versus time served so it winds up pretty much the same as it was when it was Sick + Vacation. Some sort of tax thing, we figure.

      • I work with some people who have NOTHING else to do, hence they come in. There are even a few malicious types about too....

        I mean, we can work from home and I know people who come to work to get away from the family.... and being sick is no reason for them to stay home.

        So yeah, while some might come in because of unpaid sick time there are far too many who come in because they either don't know better, don't care, or don't have anything else to do.

      • You'd have to stay home until your symptoms disappear, as you're contagious the entire time. Not even the most liberal workplace would allow that.

        And it might kill millions, some day, our addiction to "productivity". One bad virus plus our right-to-work culture will equal one mighty epidemic.

    • Re:Good Advice (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bremic (2703997) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @06:06PM (#42538417)

      It's fairly simple. When employers insist that you need to go to a doctor when you are sick and get proof or they won't believe that you were, then people decide "if I have to go out anyway, I may as well go to work."
      Also, when one person in an office is very sick, then they get a lot of negative attention. If it spreads and a number of people get sick, then they were one of the unlucky ones.

      I used to stay home when sick, until I had a manager who told me that if I took any more time off I would probably lose my job. So when I next got the flu I took drugs and went to work. I can tell you though, I really enjoyed my lengthy closed door meeting with him and HR that day. I don't think they were happy I scheduled that meeting.

      • Re:Good Advice (Score:4, Insightful)

        by X0563511 (793323) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @06:14PM (#42538591) Homepage Journal

        Yea, going to the doctor, waiting half an hour or more, spending at least at $30 copay (assuming you actually have insurance worth a damn) to be told "yep, you're sick" - sounds like a good idea...

        • by Verteiron (224042)

          Don't forget incubating for 15+ minutes in a cramped room with a lot of other sick people, all coughing and sneezing. If you weren't sick when you arrived, you certainly will be when you leave.

      • Who pays for the doctor visit? Also I now have to drag myself to a doctor's office and wait for who knows how long, rather than resting in bed?
      • It's fairly simple. When employers insist that you need to go to a doctor when you are sick and get proof or they won't believe that you were, then people decide "if I have to go out anyway, I may as well go to work."

        This is solved fairly well in Finland, where you have health centers in every district, so it's never more than 400 m away from your home. Flu cases are handled by nurses instead of MDs, so "throughput" is high. If the nurse finds that you might have a secondary infection, or something other than a flu, you are "escalated" to an MD in the same building.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      If you are sick, don't go out! If you do, you are part of the problem.

      By the time you're sick (aka showing symptoms), you've already been infectious for at least a day.

      The real solution is to get vaccinated and hope that the pharmaceutical companies guessed correctly about this year's strain.

      • by LurkerXXX (667952)

        The decision for what strains to use is not up to the pharmaceutical companies. It's up to each government to decide what to use in vaccines licensed in that country, based on recommendations from a group of the five World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centers for Reference and Research on Influenza. One of which is the CDC in the U.S.

        In the U.S., the decision is then made by the FDA based on the CDC/WHO recommendations.

        http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/vaccination/virusqa.htm [cdc.gov]

      • by elucido (870205)

        If you are sick, don't go out! If you do, you are part of the problem.

        By the time you're sick (aka showing symptoms), you've already been infectious for at least a day.

        The real solution is to get vaccinated and hope that the pharmaceutical companies guessed correctly about this year's strain.

        But those vaccines aren't healthy. How many vaccines can you take before the vaccines present side effects?

    • Yeah, that's real possible for those of us who live alone. We have to go out in order to do those fairly unimportant things like buying groceries, or medicine, or...
    • Why do people wait for an epidemic to stay home when they are sick? If you are sick, don't go out! If you do, you are part of the problem.

      In the United States many people have jobs without paid sick leave or very SMALL alotments of sick leave that are quickly used up.

      You don't show up for work, you get paid less and you may not have enough money to cover everything you hoped to cover.

      That is why.

    • by s4ltyd0g (452701)

      While I agree with you, I'm not sure it works that way. You can be highly infectious even before the onset of symptoms.

      regards

    • we can lose our jobs or be penalized for staying home. on the other hand, if we go to work we can infect the money grubbing scum and shitty co-workers who put us through hell monday through friday. fuck 'em.

  • Flu shots (Score:4, Insightful)

    by golodh (893453) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @06:06PM (#42538415)
    This looks like a good opportunity to study how effective flu shots are.

    I'd like to see a breakdown of flu patients by whether they had a flu shot in the past 6 months.

    If it's effective, probably best to mandate flu shots for health care workers, shop attendants, and all civil servants.

    • I'd also mandate them for public utility workers, public transit workers, and food service workers.
    • Or it could be that people who get flu shots are still carriers and are spreading it even more and with now stronger strains (having battled with a strengthened immune system recently).

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by geekoid (135745)

        "who get flu shots are still carriers "
        people who get the flu shot can not be carriers. Unless you get some on your hands from someone else and then spread it to a door knob.

        People who get the vaccine can not cause a mutation. depending on the year and strain match.

        I'm not sure you understand how the immune system works.

    • by kwerle (39371)

      My partner is a nurse. Her choices are:
      * Get a flu shot
      or
      * Wear a surgical mask for the flu months while at work (I think that's December-February)

      • My partner is a nurse. Her choices are:
        * Get a flu shot
        or
        * Wear a surgical mask for the flu months while at work (I think that's December-February)

        Personally, I'd go with option 2, if for nothing other than the style factor.

        OK, so maybe a surgical mask isn't all that stylish... but it does seriously freak some people's shit when you wear one in public!

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      That could be very misleading. People who are elderly, immunocompromised or exposed to sick people via work are the most likely to be immunized.

      You would need to do a real double blind study. Pick some population give half the real deal and the other half saline and wait and see what happens.

    • by SuperBanana (662181) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @07:40PM (#42539969)

      Flu shots are mandated for clinical staff by most if not all of the Boston hospitals, and there are a huge number of them - I've counted 11 so far, and I think I'm probably missing one or two:

      Childrens, MGH, Brigham & Womens, Faulkner, Beth Israel, Tufts Medical Center, Spaulding Rehab, Shriners, Mass Eye&Ear, New England Baptist, Veterans Administration Boston...and those are just the ones that are actually in Boston proper.

      Honestly, I think hospitals are part of the problem. They focus illness and weak populations (same with nursing homes and assisted living facilities.) Also, there tends to be huge pressure on clinical staff to report for work even when sick. The medical profession is astoundingly arrogant when it comes to not doing harm to patients...another good example would be the sloppy handwriting doctors use when filling out prescriptions, injuring or killing thousands.

    • by pr0t0 (216378) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @08:33PM (#42540511)

      That's actually a half-truth; I get them every three or four years to see if the same thing happens (oh boy). Every time I get a flu shot (here it comes), I get sick.

      Sing with me: "IT'S NOT AN ACTIVE STRAIN! YOU CAN'T GET SICK FROM IT...MORON!"

      Yeah, I know. I don't know what to tell you. It happens every single time, within 24 hours of the shot. Then, inevitably, because it's the wrong strain...I get sick again. I know a lot of people claim this. All I can say is biology and physiology are complex. There must be some kind of historical or environmental factor at play. I've lately decided it's maybe because I had mono once, really bad? Maybe I'm just unlucky and always seem to already have the flu just before the shot. Or maybe (probably) it's not the flu at all, but just flu-like systems brought on by my body's response to the shot. I dunno. It could be psychosomatic, but I was dead-certain it would not happen when I got the shot last year. I had to take the next two and a half days off afterward.

      But I don't advocate that people should not get flu shots. I may be a crackpot, but I'm not crazy. You absolutely should. Even if there is a legitimate biological reason for every person to claim what I just have, it's still a pretty small minority. Get the shot.

      Hey, at least I didn't claim it was a government conspiracy!

      • by tgd (2822)

        That's actually a half-truth; I get them every three or four years to see if the same thing happens (oh boy). Every time I get a flu shot (here it comes), I get sick.

        Sing with me: "IT'S NOT AN ACTIVE STRAIN! YOU CAN'T GET SICK FROM IT...MORON!"

        Actually, the correct statement is "its not an active strain, you can't get influenza from it". You will not get a self-replicating, contagious herd of viruses from getting the flu shot. That said, the whole intent of a vaccine is to trigger an immune response. If you don't get an immune response, its not a vaccine. So its "normal" to have "some" issue from them. Soreness, localized fever, etc. If you have a particularly aggressive immune system, you can get stronger symptoms (that's the ironic thing about

  • by mark_reh (2015546) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @06:10PM (#42538519) Journal

    A couple of my coworkers came to work sick over the last two weeks. I asked them why they come to work when they are sick- they are dentists at a public heath clinic,and should now better, but they come to work any way. Their response: they feel like they have to be there. Starting their own mini epidemic among patients and coworkers...

    Maybe the problem is that unused sick time can be rolled into vacation time.

    • by durrr (1316311)

      Where should the treshhold to sick be drawn? A light cough and running nose would mean me staying at home ~1 month per year.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Since it's an influenza, the line is drawn at 'you have influenza.

        It's not a 'you wont get sick' shot. It's a 'It will prevent influenza strains in most people who get a shot', shot.

    • by BMOC (2478408)

      Maybe the problem is that unused sick time can be rolled into vacation time.

      This is actually the problem. My company doesn't work this way anymore. Sick time is allowed to be taken as needed and does not accumulate. However if you go above X hours a year of sick time you get a stern lecture from your level X boss, if you go above Y hours, Y+X boss, etc... It doesn't get abused often I don't think, at least I haven't seen it.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      They should be sent home by the rest of the staff.

  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @06:11PM (#42538547) Journal

    While the CDC does not keep a tab of deaths overall from the flu, it estimates that 24,000 Americans die each year.

    Why doesn't the CDC keep tabs on overall deaths from the flu?
    You can make policy without hard numbers, but you will never know if the policy is effective.

    • by durrr (1316311)

      Elderly and children do not respond with classic symptoms always, along with possible co-infections and whatnot else it's pretty hard to tell if it's actually flu, some passing other infection, or other natural causes.

    • by kwerle (39371) <kurt@CircleW.org> on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @06:19PM (#42538683) Homepage Journal

      While the CDC does not keep a tab of deaths overall from the flu, it estimates that 24,000 Americans die each year.

      Why doesn't the CDC keep tabs on overall deaths from the flu?
      You can make policy without hard numbers, but you will never know if the policy is effective.

      Huh.

      http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm [cdc.gov]
      ...

      Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,692
      ...

      • by radtea (464814)

        Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,692

        Right, so how many died of the flu?

        0? 53,692?

        This is the dirty little open secret of the anti-flu business: no one knows how many people die of the flu. The number is certainly not zero, but it is equally certainly not the full tally of "flu plus other things that present similar symptoms that are not the flu".

        So the question remains: "Why doesn't the CDC keep tabs on overall deaths from the flu?" and the answer is: "It is not economic to do a proper diagnosis of every fatality from 'flu and penumonia'

    • It's essentially impossible to do so. Influenza itself is not guaranteed to appear in the list of factors contributing to death on the death certificate. Respiratory failure, bronchitis, pneumonia, sepsis, cardiomyopathy, multi-system organ failure - all are likely to be true. Who knows if you'll get "influenza" on that list?
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      You plan on testing every corpse?

      Odds are the cause of death on the certificate will be organ failure, pneumonia, or something like that. This makes it very hard to track those numbers.

  • by DeTech (2589785)
    I work/Live in boston and half the office is out and all I hear around me is coughing/sneezing/sniffling... If I didn't have to be here this week I'd be telecommuting but alias I'm boned. Anybody got any great ideas for combating this outbreak in a open lab type environment.
    • Go to a hardware store and look for an N95 Respirator mask. That will protect you against everything (including TB) if it's properly fitted.
      • Go to a hardware store and look for an N95 Respirator mask. That will protect you against everything (including TB) if it's properly fitted.

        Aww, but this one [mainemilitary.com] has so much more WOW factor!

  • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @06:15PM (#42538599)

    I'm confused WRT

    http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/ [cdc.gov]

    I was just looking there this morning and thought to myself, how nice it is that the peak is already over, and the flu season has begun its decline.

    I do see that its "normal" that a "bad year" has about 10 times the deaths as a "good year". So about twice as bad as last year (a "good" year) it doesn't look like its the end of the world yet.

    I did look at some historical records and the higher the peaks seem to go with earlier peaks, this peak being somewhere in between would imply its a moderately bad year.

    Not quite 1918 yet, or ?

  • ... isn't always viable, unless you happen to have a tidy nestegg of funds sitting in reserve to tide you over while you recover. Not to mention the fact that your workload is only going to be that much worse (and in turn, more stressful, which is bad for your health) when you return because perish the thought if management should have to try to figure out, without any warning, how to redelegate some of your job to others while you are away.
  • I hope you're proud of yourselves. How does it feel to be accessories to completely unnecessary deaths?

  • It sucked. Infection that just wouldn't die and moved all over the place, sinuses, throat, lungs, nodes, etc... I'd stay home a day and think I was getting better, and it would just move somewhere else. Stupid flu.
  • Once again! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Nexion (1064) on Wednesday January 09, 2013 @07:26PM (#42539765)

    We have another opportunity for the flu shot fascists to espouse their message of authority over individual rights, and perhaps some of the zealots who feel these shots are an affront to their deeply held beliefs? Bring forth the flu shot pseudoscience conjecture from both sides of the debate! Please, this time, explain how your sources established a large enough pool and maintained control of subjects to avoid contamination for a proper experiment! I bet our fascists have great suggestions on how we could better control unwilling medical experiment subjects taken from the peasantry! Please, I need a good laugh.

    Nexion

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