How can I take action?

On Tuesday I sat down and shared Jude with you. Some of you have been with me longer and already knew a lot of what I had to say, and some of you were hearing our story for the first time. (Facebook, Twitter, blog)

Thank you, all of you who took the time to read through and learn more about our little boy and what happened to him, all who went on to share his story further, all who reached out with your kind words. My phone has only just this morning started to calm down after several days of freezing from all the activity.
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You heard us. You saw Jude. And maybe in Jude you saw your own loved ones, and your own potential to take steps to protect lives like his going forward. Every year there are ~3500 Canadian and ~36,000 American families just like ours, losing someone to influenza. Before Jude died, I knew that the flu was a serious respiratory illness, but I didn’t know how much damage it does every single year. I didn’t know the different functions of this virus. I didn’t know it could cause organ and system failure.
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I didn’t know.
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The flu is preventable, but it takes all of us doing our part to keep each other safe and healthy. I’ve had many people this week ask what they can do now to protect themselves and everyone around them and I will have this conversation over and over if it means that someone else might not have to be in our situation. Let’s go. Let’s do this together.
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TAKE ACTION
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1) Get your flu shot. This is your best first defense. It isn’t a guarantee and some people won’t gain protection, but it does work for a lot of people. When someone develops immunity against the flu, not only are they protecting themselves, but they’re adding a layer of protection for everyone around them because they take themselves out of the chain. If you don’t get the flu, you can’t pass it on to anyone you come in contact with. The flu shot program in Ontario has reduced influenza cases by 61%. That’s huge. Even in years when the flu shot doesn’t offer an ideal match against the predominant strain, like what we’re dealing with right now with H3N2, there’s still some protection to be had. Some people will develop immunity, and many people who get the flu after having the flu shot will experience less severe cases. You might still get sick, but it could keep you out of the hospital or worse. Even better: saving another person’s life can be a simple as a quick shot. You can do this. You can have this impact.
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2) Stay home if you’re sick, and keep sick kids out of school until at least 24 hours symptom-free without medication. Going in while sick or too soon after puts everyone else around you at risk of contracting what you’ve just had. I know it can be hard to miss work. I know it can be hard to keep kids home. But other people’s health and safety matter, and putting them at risk isn’t okay. The flu can pass up to 6′ away through conversation. Removing yourself or your sick children from environments where it’s easy to spread illness is vital to protecting them. We can’t know who we’re in contact with who might be higher risk. Sometimes we can’t see that the person next to us had a lung transplant, is fighting cancer, struggles with a heart condition, is pregnant. And even if we believe that all of the people directly around us are in perfect health and could easily fight an illness, we don’t know who they have at home who might be higher risk. They may have an aging parent, a sick spouse, a two-year-old boy in puppy boots and a lion hat. Exposing other people to your illness might cost them their loved ones.
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If we all do better at this one, we’ll all be exposed to fewer unnecessary illnesses. What if you didn’t have to worry about a coworker getting you sick? What if you didn’t have to wonder how many times your kid will get sick at school every year?
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3) Cover your coughs and sneezes. Remember that 6′ through conversation fact above? Coughs and sneezes are express trains for the tiny water droplets that spread the flu. This is simple and effective. Make it a habit!
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4) Wash your hands frequently, at least eight times a day. Did you take the elevator? Open a door? Maybe you paid for something by credit card or debit and had to put in your PIN. Go wash your hands with soap and water, for at least twenty seconds each time. This is a great way to avoid carrying germs around with you. A great trick to know if you’re washing long enough is to sing ‘happy birthday’ twice. Avoid touching your face, too. Influenza enters your system easily through your mouth, nose, and eyes. Keep your (potentially germy) hands away from these areas, especially if you haven’t washed your hands recently.
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5) Clean frequently touched surfaces. The flu virus can live on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours. Doorknob, keys, counter, fridge, phone, etc.
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6) Look after yourself. Rest and healthy diet and exercise choices help your body function at its best, supporting a healthy immune system.
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7) Talk about it. Have conversations with your friends, family, and coworkers about keeping each other healthy. If you have someone who’s at a higher risk in your home, protect them. Find out if visitors have had their flu shot, and confirm that they’ve been well before inviting them into your home. Do others the same courtesy. If you’re sick, it’s not the right time to go spend time with someone who might not be able to fight what you have. If your aunt is fighting cancer and you have a cough, fever, or any flu-like or GI symptom, let her know ahead and arrange to visit when you’re well again.
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And keep talking. Do you have questions? That’s okay! We did, too. We can get you started here and here, but talk with your doctor if you need more information as you make choices for yourself and your family. Find more resources here, too.
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Help us keep getting this message out. There’s a lot of misinformation about the flu and that makes it difficult for people to know what’s best. The more we talk about influenza and the flu shot with respectful, fact-based conversation, the better it is for all of us. One of the reasons the flu shot isn’t more effective is because of the low participation. The flu is unstable and the more it spreads, the faster it can mutate. Do your part to avoid being part of the chain, and talk about this with people around you. Tell people that you got your flu shot and why.  We’d love to see your flu shot pictures and hear your stories. Post to social media with #forjudeforeveryone.
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LET’S PROTECT EACH OTHER
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None of these prevention methods are guarantees alone, but together they can help you avoid getting sick and spreading it to others. We can do this. YOU can do this. You can make choices that will prevent other families from being like mine this year. Keep following on social media and help us share prevention tips. Flu prevention is possible and it saves lives, but it needs to be a team effort. The more people who do their part to protect themselves and each other, the fewer new stories like Jude’s we’ll have.
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