The flu season is in full swing and Public Health Command Europe officials continue to recommend the flu vaccine for service members and their families as the best protection against the seasonal flu.

Each year the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies and while it is still too early to predict how effective this season's flu vaccine will be in Europe, the vaccination is still recommended as, at the very least, it may make the illness milder and prevent hospitalization if the flu is contracted.

Last year, according to PHCE officials, the vaccine was quite effective in individuals under the age of 65. Almost no one hospitalized with the flu had received the vaccine while a number of unvaccinated patients were so ill they required hospitalization.

"The flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting yourself against the flu," said Fritz Castillo, Senior Epidemiologist for PHCE.

The flu is most common in the fall and winter and people of all ages are susceptible.

In order to combat the flu, or to provide an additional line of defense, each year the flu vaccine is available. The vaccine can prevent the flu or it can help to reduce the rise of flu-associated hospitalizations -- including hospitalizations for children and older adults, according to PHCE officials.

"The vaccination also helps to protect women during and after pregnancy," according to Castillo. "When a mother is vaccinated during pregnancy it also helps protect the baby for several months after birth."

In addition to protecting yourself and your family from the flu with the vaccine, PHCE also recommends staying away from those who are sick; washing hands often with soap and water; using a tissue to cover the nose or mouth when coughing or sneezing; and if you do have flu-like symptoms, to stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.

Symptoms of the flu include fever, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, chills, cough, headache, feeling weak or tired and body aches. And less common, but still an indicator, are vomiting and diarrhea.

"If you become ill with influenza symptoms you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to seek medical care," Castillo said. "Most people are able to recover at home from the flu without medical care; however, some people are at a greater risk of serious flu-related complications. These include children under 5, people 65 and older, pregnant women, and people who have asthma, neurological conditions, chronic lung disease, heart disease, and people with low immunity due to particular health conditions."

If you think you may have the flu, PHCE officials advise that it is better to stay home to avoid infecting other people.

"However, anyone with shortness of breath, unable to keep food or water down, change in mental status, high fever (greater than 101) lasting more than a few days, bloody mucous or anyone with chronic medical conditions like emphysema, diabetes, or immune suppression should seek medical care," said Col. Rodney Coldren, PHCE Chief of Preventive Medicine. "Additionally, anyone who gets better but then has symptoms return the following week, along with infants and individuals over the age of 65, should also seek medical care."

For information on where you can get the flu vaccine or if you have further questions regarding the flu vaccine please contact your local military treatment facility or your primary care manager. For more information visit: