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By Maggie Hall

October 11, 2017

The arrival of fall means cooler weather and planning for the holidays ahead, but it should also mean the time to start thinking about getting your annual flu vaccine.

The flu is more than a “just a cold” for many people. The seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. It spreads from person to person and, for some, it can result in a serious illness that means lost work time or severe symptoms that require hospitalizations. In some cases, it can lead to death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the flu kills about 24,000 Americans each year.

Flu season generally begins in the fall and winter. In Florida, the season is at its worst in the first months of the new year. Since the flu vaccine takes about two weeks to provide protection, it’s a good idea to get it before the holiday season brings parties and gatherings where you’re exposed to many people in close settings.

When someone with the flu coughs or sneezes near you, you’re exposed to the virus. Touching surfaces or items with the virus on them and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose can also transmit the flu. Washing your hands often with soap and water plus a flu vaccine each year offer the best protection. Covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough prevents the spread of the virus when you’re sick. Coughing or sneezing into your elbow keeps the virus away from your hands.

The flu vaccine is especially important for adults older than 65, children younger than two, people with chronic diseases and pregnant women, but the flu vaccine is recommended for anyone older than six months of age. There is a high-dose version of the flu vaccine just for seniors and an intradermal option that uses a very small needle.

Don’t let the flu spoil your holidays or cause you to miss work. Go to for more information on the flu and how to avoid getting sick.

The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County will be offering flu vaccines at no cost on Wednesday, Oct. 18 at its Pinellas Park health department. Look in our Newsroom for a media release with more information.