SEMBACH, Germany -- As the flu season rapidly approaches, there are several common sense tips to help keep you and your loved ones healthy this winter season.

Flu vaccinations are an annual requirement for Soldiers, and the Army medical community offers the vaccine to Soldiers, as well as their family members, retirees and civilians here in the European theater.

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.

According to Col. Kerry LeFrancis, Regional Health Command Europe Force Health Protection Officer, "The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, but good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu."

Army Medical clinics in Europe will kick off their flu vaccination campaigns by the end of October, and information about vaccine availability will be provided throughout the community via web, social media, AFN and through command channels.

"Influenza vaccine is in the process of being shipped from Department of Defense logistics distribution locations to military medical treatment facilities worldwide," said LeFrancis. "As soon as it arrives at your clinic, it will be available during regularly scheduled appointments.

"If you are not in a military unit, the fastest way to get the vaccine is to go to a local community event where it is being offered," LeFrancis added. "These events will begin right around the second week in October. Dates and locations will be 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, according to Regional Health Command Europe officials.

LeFrancis said that 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," added LeFrancis.

The following tips and advice below can help protect yourself and others from flu and help stop the spread of germs.

1. Avoid close contact.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

2. Stay home when you are sick.

If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.

3. Cover your mouth and nose.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Flu and other serious respiratory illnesses, like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), are spread by cough, sneezing, or unclean hands.

"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."

4. Clean your hands.

Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

6. Practice other good health habits.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Preventing Flu at School

• Find out about plans your child's school, child care program, or college has if an outbreak of flu or another illness occurs and whether flu vaccinations are offered on-site.

• Make sure your child's school, child care program, or college routinely cleans frequently touched objects and surfaces, and that they have a good supply of tissues, soap, paper towels, alcohol-based hand rubs, and disposable wipes on-site.

• Ask how sick students and staff are separated from others and who will care for them until they can go home.

Preventing Flu at Work

• Find out about your employer's plans if an outbreak of flu or another illness occurs and whether flu vaccinations are offered on-site.

• Routinely clean frequently touched objects and surfaces, including doorknobs, keyboards, and phones, to help remove germs.

• Make sure your workplace has an adequate supply of tissues, soap, paper towels, alcohol-based hand rubs, and disposable wipes.

• Train others on how to do your job so they can cover for you in case you or a family member gets sick and you have to stay home.

• If you begin to feel sick while at work, go home as soon as possible.

"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 who are at a high risk for flu complications. You don't always know who those people are."

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