Is Fear of Ebola Making People Forget About the Flu?

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, receives a flu shot from Sharon Bonadies at the conclusion of a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Health experts have urged Americans to get their flu shots, especially if they are afraid of Ebola. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, receives a flu shot from Sharon Bonadies at the conclusion of a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Health experts have urged Americans to get their flu shots, especially if they are afraid of Ebola. (AP Photo/J. David Ake) –AP

The past few months have been the season of Ebola. Since the beginning of the year, four people have contracted the disease in America, one person has died from it, and pretty much the entire country freaked out to one degree or another. One of the worried parties was Massachusetts General Hospital—but not for the reason you might suspect.

“One concern we have is that the amount of attention being directed towards Ebola has consumed the attention of the patients and the message regarding the importance of flu vaccine is being crowded out,’’ Andrew Gottlieb, MGH’s director of Occupational Health Services, wrote in an email to Boston.com. “The message to the public needs to emphasize that influenza is a far greater risk for Americans than Ebola. It’s not too late for those who have not been vaccinated.’’

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Doctors across America have urged patients to get their flu shots, especially if they are afraid of Ebola. Americans are more likely to contract the common flu than Ebola, which is only transferred through direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person infected with the disease while they are infectious. This year, deaths associated with influenza and pneumonia have killed 547 people in Boston, 61 in Cambridge, and 111 in Springfield, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Alas, MGH is reporting a decrease in flu vaccinations compared to last year. But, says Gottlieb, that’s not necessarily a bad sign.

“One thought is the vaccine is becoming increasingly available in the communities (i.e. pharmacies) so patients may find that more convenient,’’ he said.

The numbers seem to bear out his theory.

Though the end of the flu season will provide a more definite count of total vaccinations given, CVS and Walgreens have reported an increase in flu shots administered so far this year. CVS reported an 8 percent increase nationwide in its November 4 report and Walgreens reported a 16 percent increase over last year based on vaccinations through the month of October.

Boston-area colleges are holding flu clinics throughout the season, and numbers indicate an increase in total flu vaccinations given so far.

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According to Lindsey Baker, a spokesperson for Harvard University, 13,000 vaccinations have been given as of November 6, which is about 3,000 more vaccinations than the same time last year.

Boston University is noticing a similar spike.

“We have given the largest number of shots we’ve ever given this early in the season: about 5,000,’’ said Colin Riley, executive director of media relations at BU. “Last year we gave nearly 5,500 and expect to hit or exceed that mark this year.’’

So, have you gotten your flu shot yet?

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