The leaves are beginning to change, the weather is getting cooler, and noses are starting to run -- all the telltale signs of the beginning of flu season. But don't worry, with these tips from Regional Health Command Europe, you won't need to hibernate all winter to fend off the flu.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity begins to increase in October, peaking between December and February and diminishing by May.

Tip #1: Get your flu shot!

"The first and most important step in protecting against the flu is to get vaccinated," said Col. Kerry LeFrancis, RHCE Force Health Protection Officer. "Getting vaccinated helps to reduce the severity and spread of the disease and improves community immunity."

It is still possible to get the flu even with the vaccine. However, LeFrancis said according to a recent study, "vaccination reduces the number of flu related deaths, the number of hospital intensive care unit admissions and the duration of hospital stay for patients who do get hospitalized. The study also found that unvaccinated adults with the flu who were admitted to the hospital were two to five times more likely to die than someone who had been vaccinated.

Tip #2: Take every-day preventive action!

Did you know if you sing the "Happy Birthday" song two times it equals 20 seconds -- the length of time you should wash your hands?

Hand hygiene is key in stopping the spread of germs, LeFrancis said. In addition, always cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

"Maybe you've heard of 'sneeze in your sleeve' to remind you to cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow, not your hand, when you sneeze or cough," LeFrancis said. "That keeps the germs off of your hands."

Additionally, if you are sick, your co-workers, classmates and friends would appreciate it if you stayed home.

The CDC recommends staying at home for at least 24 hours after a fever is gone.

"It can be tough for some of us to take some time out when we feel an illness coming on," LeFrancis said. "But it's important to stay home from school or work to reduce the chance of spreading something potentially life threatening to those people at a high risk for flu complications.

Tip #3: If you think you have the flu, see your doctor!

Your doctor can test you for the flu, and if the test comes back positive, "You may be prescribed antiviral drugs, which can make the illness milder and shorten the course of your illness," LeFrancis said.

These medicines have been shown to work best when started as soon as possible after getting sick, but for high-risk individuals, starting later can still be helpful.

"People who are at high risk of developing complications from the flu include children younger than 5, adults over 65 years old, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions like asthma or heart disease," LeFrancis said.

Tip #4: The flu shot is for you!

"Nearly everyone six months and older can get the vaccine," LeFrancis said. "The more people who get vaccinated against the flu, the lower the chance of it spreading to those who have a higher risk for severe symptoms."

For example, a young healthy person contracts the flu but doesn't get severely sick from the virus -- but they can spread it, unknowingly, to people who are higher risk, and who may not be able to fight the virus as easily.

Army Medicine clinics in Europe will all have the influenza vaccine by the end of October.

"As of the beginning of October, we have received a little over half of the total vaccinations," LeFrancis said. "As soon as it arrives at your clinic, it will be available during regularly scheduled appointments. The fastest way to get the vaccine is to go to a community event where it is being offered. Dates and locations are advertised through your local clinic."

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 it may make the illness milder and prevent hospitalization if the flu is contracted.


For more information on the flu vaccine or when and where you can get it, check out your Army Medicine clinic's Facebook page to find the latest information. For more information on influenza and the vaccination, visit the CDC's website: https://www.cdc.gov/flu