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Flu season is just around the corner. It typically starts in October and lasts until May. The flu is a virus that affects your lungs, nose, and throat. It causes coughing, aches and pains, and fever. And it can make you feel very tired.

Symptoms typically last about a week. But some symptoms, such as coughing and fatigue, may go on for several weeks. And for some people, the flu can turn severe. Researchers estimate that over 200,000 people in the U.S. each year spend time in the hospital because of the flu. And it’s one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.

If I Got a Flu Shot Last Year, Do I Need Another One?
Getting a flu shot each year is one of the best things you can do to help you avoid the flu. There are often new flu strains from year to year. So the flu shot you got last year may not help protect you from this year’s virus. Each year, scientists try to figure out which flu strains are likely to be a problem. Then they create a vaccine to combat those strains. That is why it’s so important to get a flu shot every year.

When Should I Get My Flu Shot?
You can usually get the flu shot starting now—in September. Getting the shot early is best. It takes about two weeks for your body to make the antibodies that help protect you from getting the flu. If you can’t get a shot early, getting one anytime during flu season is better than not at all.

Where Can I Get a Flu Shot?
Flu shots are available from your doctor. Many pharmacies, public health departments, and walk-in clinics offer the shot too. You may even be able to get a flu shot at work. If you have Medicare, the cost of the shot is covered. Many private health insurance companies will also pay for the shot. Check with your insurance before you go.

What Else Can I Do to Avoid the Flu?
The flu virus spreads when people who are sick with the flu cough or sneeze close to you. The flu virus can also live for a few hours on surfaces like books, doorknobs, and grocery carts. Touching contaminated surfaces and then eating, rubbing your eyes, or touching the inside of your nose can make you sick.

Along with a flu shot, these hygiene tips may help keep you well too:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. And keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer on hand for when soap and water isn’t near.
  • Keep your hands away from your face to avoid spreading germs to your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you do not have a tissue handy, cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm.
  • Avoid people who are sick. People can spread the flu up to 7 days after becoming sick.

What If I Get the Flu Anyway?
Some people who get the flu shot may still get the flu. There are a couple of reasons why. It could be that you didn’t get the flu shot in time. So your body didn’t have a chance to build up an immunity, which takes about 2 weeks. Or it could be that the vaccine wasn’t a good match for that particular flu strain, which can happen.

If you do get the flu, the best thing you can do is to rest up and drink lots of fluids. If your symptoms aren’t clearing up in a few days, talk with your doctor.

So don’t delay! Get your flu shot early and stay healthy during this upcoming flu season!