“Nice to meet you. Excuse me if I don’t shake your hand. Just getting over some bug. Brutal.”

Brutal indeed. This season’s flu lasts longer and has put more people in the hospital than typical flu bugs. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection, neglectfully quiet on the epidemic, predicts that more than 56,000 Americans will die of flu this year. And you can’t get away from it unless you go to Hawaii or Oregon, the only states thus far spared from widespread outbreak.

What you can do - what we all can do, but unfortunately often don’t - is monitor our own behavior and the behavior of those who are particularly vulnerable (children and the elderly) to avoid getting the flu, to minimize its symptoms and to avoid spreading it. This is serious.

We are social animals, taught as children to be friendly and polite. That’s generally good advice, but sometimes it’s best for the community at large - and much friendlier and polite - to avoid that handshake, that hug, that kiss on the cheek. For example, when we are in the midst of a flu epidemic and you are either “coming down with something,” “just getting over something,” or, worse yet, “fighting this thing that won’t go away.”

Please, just go away! We are talking about a flu outbreak, not a common cold. A recent government report showed one of every 13 visits to the doctor was for symptoms of the flu. That’s higher than every winter flu season since 2003. More than a thousand cases have been reported in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties. Sometimes, the most responsible thing to do is stop feeling responsible to be someplace where we can spread our misfortune to others. Like work or school.

A little information can go a long way at such times, so bear with us if you’ve heard this before. If you are not feeling sick, avoid people who are sick. Also, wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes. Remain hydrated, eat nutritious foods and exercise. It can help strengthen your immune system.

If you’re feeling sick - fever, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, cough, body aches, congestion, sore throat - stay home from work. Your boss doesn’t need more sick employees. (Bosses: You have to acknowledge this reality.) If your fever - or your child’s - is 103 F or higher, see a doctor.

The important thing is to minimize the symptoms while the flu is attacking you and to avoid contact with others while you are contagious. We’re typically lousy at estimating the contagious part, but if there’s a fever, you’re contagious. If your child’s nose is still running and other symptoms are still there, keep him or her home two or three days and see how things progress. Be aware, the flu can last more than a week. Contact the school to get any work so he or she won’t fall behind.

And while this season’s flu vaccine appears to be less effective than previous ones, the CDC says get one; it can still help.

Chicken soup helps, too.