Metro

This year’s flu is pitting family members against each other

Adobe/Globe staff illustration

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Audrey Genest, an account executive from Stoneham, certainly wasn’t happy when her doctor told her she had the flu, but the diagnosis hit one person even harder: her live-in boyfriend.

“He was so focused on the possibility that he might get the flu,” Genest, 25, said. “Meanwhile I was the one with the 102 temperature.”

Colby Blauvelt, the boyfriend, began sleeping in a surgical mask, even though Genest had relegated herself to a futon. When she asked for water, he’d toss her a bottle. Food was served on a tray and pushed across an ottoman, like a prison guard sliding a meal under a cell door.

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“If I could have quarantined her I would have,” said Blauvelt, 26, a plasterer with his family’s construction firm and a drummer.

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No one ever wants to catch the flu. But this year, with frightening reports about the flu killing young people, and news that the vaccine is less than 20 percent effective against the flu’s dominant strain, the stakes feel even higher.

That’s raising stress levels in households in all sorts of ways, both practical and emotional.

Caregivers — and sometimes the afflicted themselves, particularly mothers — are frantically scrubbing and rescrubbing surfaces, never quite sure how long the flu virus can live on the TV remote or the bathroom doorknob, or whether the dog counts as a “surface.” (In some cases, yes).

Lovebirds are getting their feelings hurt, as people on both sides of the fever yell, “Stay away!”

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In Brookline, Paula Sinclair was glad her husband was on a business trip when she got the flu, even though it meant there was no one onsite to bring her food. Her daughter, in New York, ordered her takeout from DoorDash, and Sinclair had to drag herself outside into the biting cold to retrieve bibimbap and kimchi from the driver.

“At least I didn’t have to deal with [my husband’s] feelings of rejection by being booted out of the bed,” she said.

Coping with the flu

In Needham, Kelly Luce, 53, sort-of-jokingly turned on her husband, who was sick with the flu, when she walked into the kitchen to find him coughing directly over the coffee pot.

No sneezing into his elbow, or covering his mouth, or moving away from the pot. Just cough cough cough right over the coffee.

“It was just so brazen,” Luce said, recalling that she confronted him with a marital favorite — the rebuke phrased as a question.

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“Is there a reason you didn’t turn away from the pot?”

Surprise, surprise, Luce then caught the flu herself. As soon as she was feeling well enough, she retaliated in a particularly modern way:

“Questioning my 30 year marriage,” @KellyLLuce tweeted. “If he really loved me would he have polluted me with his flu germs?”

That’s a question of the heart perhaps best answered by couples counselors and poets. But with the flu raging across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has weighed in on the less emotional aspects of the query.

“People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away,” the agency website reads. “Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

“Less often,” the CDC continues, “a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.”

The CDC says the flu virus can live on some surfaces for 24 hours, but Dr. Alfred DeMaria Jr., medical director of the bureau of infectious disease at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, provided some context that may be helpful to the crazed.

“You can get the flu from an environmental surface that’s been contaminated with secretions from an infected person’s cough or sneeze,” he said, “but it needs to be contaminated shortly before you come into contact with it. Once the secretions are dry on the surface, it’s not an important source of infection.”

That’s good to know, because as Sheila Gibson Stoodley, of Lowell, pointed out after the flu went through her whole family, total vigilance can be as exhausting as the flu.

“I’m more responsible than most, but I’m not a registered nurse,” she said. “I have seen people who are really good at not getting sick — but I can’t take it to that level. It’s a part-time job. You have to live with your hands being raw from Purell.”

Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @BethTeitell.