The flu might strike right before your big presentation at work. Your kid may come down with a case right before her holiday play…and she has a major role. The flu might even strike the entire family right before you’re about to take a well-deserved vacation. And heaven forbid it strikes the weekend of a big football game. So, how do you keep the bug at bay this flu season? A flu shot is the best way to increase your odds of not succumbing to the flu in 2019-20.

First, a few things you should know about the flu. For us in Louisiana, flu season runs from October through February with late November through late January being peak times. Influenza is contagious and is passed along by coughs, sneezes and touching contaminated objects or surfaces. The flu and the common cold have similar symptoms, which can make it hard to distinguish between the two. If you feel that you are ill, special tests that usually must be done within the first few days of illness can tell if you have the flu. Sudden, excessive fatigue is one of the earliest signs of the flu. Fatigue is also a symptom of the common cold, but it’s usually more severe with the flu. If you feel very tired, have fever and chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, plus headaches and body aches, you probably have the flu.

The best way to keep from coming down with the flu is to get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends annual influenza vaccinations for everyone six years and older with any age-appropriate flu vaccine. A CDC study published in Pediatrics, The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, showed that flu vaccination can be life-saving for children. The study found that half of flu-related deaths in children from 2010 to 2016 occurred in otherwise healthy children, only 22% of whom were fully vaccinated. The same study also showed antiviral treatment was only given in about half of all pediatric flu deaths. Nearly two-thirds of children died within seven days of developing symptoms.

You and your loved ones should get a flu vaccine before flu begins spreading in your community. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the vaccine to take effect. The CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October if possible. However, if you are unable to get vaccinated in early fall, getting the flu vaccine later in the season is still beneficial. The vaccine can keep you from contracting the flu, or in many cases reduces flu illnesses, so the symptoms are much milder. In addition to children, it is very important to vaccinate high-risk persons such as pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease, and those over 65.

Even if you get a vaccine, be sure to take everyday precautions to keep the flu away. Wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough and if someone in the family comes down with symptoms, isolate that person from other family members if possible. Additionally, see a doctor as soon as symptoms occur. The treatment window for the flu is usually within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, and the only proven treatment that helps requires a doctor’s prescription, so it’s important to act fast.