Health Buzz: Boston Hit Hard By Flu Outbreak

Busted: 8 myths about flu season; Plus, can social media help you lose weight?

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700 Confirmed Cases of the Flu in Boston

As Boston gets pummeled by a severe flu season, Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency for the city yesterday morning. Since October 1, Boston has seen four flu-related deaths and 700 confirmed cases of the flu—up from only 70 cases last year, reports CBS News. The hefty number of flu victims has strained Boston hospitals, including Massachusetts General, which is restricting the number of visitors to vulnerable patients and asking staff to wear masks, according to CBS. And while Boston is being hit the hardest, CBS says that 41 states have seen flu outbreaks this season, about a month earlier than usual. "It is absolutely not too late to get your flu shot," Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, told CBS. "I would strongly encourage anyone who has not gotten their flu shot yet to get their flu shot soon. It would be a great idea."

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  • Busted: 8 Myths About Flu Season

    Dread it all you want, but there's no escaping flu season. Every year, like clockwork, it returns: a miserable six-month stretch defined by sniffling, sneezing, a sore throat, and all-over achiness. Brace yourself, because the flu is expected to strike by October, and the vaccine is already arriving at doctors' offices and other clinics.

    As anyone who's been sidelined by flu knows, it's as contagious as it is unpleasant. The flu typically spreads via a respiratory route: We catch it and then breathe the virus onto others. "If someone gets in your breathing zone—within about three feet—they'll likely inhale it and get infected too," says William Schaffner, chair of Vanderbilt University's department of preventive medicine. "The tricky part is that you won't start to experience symptoms for about three days, but at day number two you're already spreading it to your friends."

    With all those germs comes lots of misinformation. We bust eight common myths about flu season:

    1. The flu is no worse than a bad cold: Au contraire, it can be downright dangerous. Yes, there's the standard congestion, cough, body aches, and fever. But there are more serious complications, too, like developing pneumonia and other secondary bacterial infections. Flu lands around 200,000 people in the hospital every year, and kills an estimated 30,000 Americans annually.

    2. You can catch the flu from the flu shot: "No, no, a thousand times no," Schaffner says. The vaccine can cause flu-like symptoms, including headache or even a slight fever. But it won't actually cause the flu—it's made from a dead virus that can't make you sick, after all. [Read more: Busted: 8 Myths About Flu Season]

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    • Can Social Media Help You Lose Weight?

      At the start of the New Year, when weight loss is often a priority, building a support team to help keep us on track can be extremely helpful. This might typically consist of family members, friends, co-workers, or perhaps even a nutritionist or registered dietitian. But today, support can also be found online. Plenty of Web sites focus on losing weight, and include communities that provide support and encouragement. Since many of us spend a lot of time on social media sites—maybe too much if you ask my husband!—why not use these platforms as another tool for support? In fact, one study suggests employees participating in a workplace wellness program who also joined the company's Facebook page, run by a registered dietitian, stayed with the program longer than those who didn't.

      Could it actually make sense that gluing ourselves to our mobile device or computer could help us shed pounds? It sounds like quite the oxymoron, since increased screen time doesn't usually equate to weight loss. But here's how to make social media sites work for you:

      Facebook: It's is a place where you can share what's going on in your life with friends, but you may not feel comfortable announcing what you weigh or that you're trying to lose weight. On the other hand, you may enjoy posting fitness milestones, such as training for and completing your first marathon, or a bike ride for your favorite charity. Sharing your fitness goals with the Facebook universe may be helpful, because the more people who know about it, the more likely you are to stay committed. [Read more: Can Social Media Help You Lose Weight?]