It seems as if we've only just emerged from the rigors of the last flu season, but the calendar doesn't lie: We've flipped the page into October, which means the 2017-18 season is just about to start — and, in fact, might already be underway.

According to the federal Centers for Disease and Prevention Control, the flu season across the nation typically begins to pick up steam in late October and early November; it does seem as if the flu season struck Oregon relatively late last year, but that's no guarantee that we won't get hit earlier this year.

So now is the time to start thinking about taking the single best thing you can do to battle the flu: getting your flu shot. The CDC says it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body, so the smart course is to get the shot before the flu season really kicks in. The recommendation is to get the shot by the end of October, but if you miss that date, you should know that the vaccine still can be beneficial much later in the season. Children who need two doses of the vaccine should start earlier, because the doses need to be given at least four weeks apart. (The CDC again is recommending against the nasal spray vaccine because of continuing questions about its effectiveness.)

Even if you get a shot, there's still a possibility that you'll come down with a case of the flu. There are a number of reasons why that could happen: Each year's vaccine represents an educated assessment about the three or four particular strains of the flu which research suggests will be most prevalent. Some years, that assessment is more accurate than others. And the vaccine works best in healthy younger adults and older children; some older people and those with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after getting the vaccine. 

If you do get sick, you know the drill, but many of us often ignore it: Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or other necessities. Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine. Don't fool yourself into thinking that your coworkers will resent the fact that you're at home and race back to the office before you're ready; chances are they'll resent it much more if you pass your illness to them.

In the meantime, this is a good time to review some of the other basic flu-prevention advice we've received over the years: Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper sleeve. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently; if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. (If it’s possible, though, go easy on that sanitizer.) Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth (we know; that's easier said than done. We have no idea how astronauts in spacesuits go hours without touching their faces.)

But we digress.

Although Americans have tended to downplay the risks of influenza, there's no doubt that we're talking about serious illness: The CDC estimates that each year since 2010, influenza has resulted in at least 9 million illnesses, with the number approaching 61 million some years. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and the number of deaths attributed to the flu has ranged between 12,000 and 56,000.

If you're not interested in being numbered this year among those feverish, achy, coughing, sneezing and wheezing statistics, your best bet is to get the shot. Why not take care of that this week? Your body will thank you. So will your coworkers and the other members of your family. (mm)

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