Flu season is off to a strong start this year in the U.S.In fact, it’s the earliest flu season recorded in nearly a decade, according to the Centers for Disease, Control & Prevention (CDC). Health officials have reported higher-than-normal rates of the flu in five Southern states: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. Flu-related hospitalizations have also been on the rise earlier in the season than usual.

To help arm yourself against the potentially life-threatening virus and keep you healthy well into the New Year, Adventist HealthCare’s flu guru, Judy Lichty, Regional Director for Health & Wellness, shares what you can do to protect yourself against this season’s nasty strain.

#1: Get a Flu Shot

“It’s not too late to get a flu shot,” says Lichty. She explains there’s plenty of flu vaccine available and people can get flu shots well into January or February if needed.

Lichty says the current flu strain is matching very closely to what’s in the flu vaccine this year. Getting a flu shot is the best defense you can take against getting the flu. The CDC estimates about 112 million Americans have already gotten a flu shot this year. Flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months and older. They are especially important for pregnant women, young children and the elderly.

#2: Practice Prevention

“Wash your hands thoroughly, between the fingers, under the nail beds, around the wrist, and cough into your sleeve as opposed to your hands,” says Lichty.

Use this handy checklist:

  • Get Vaccinated!
  • Wash Hands Often
  • Cover Mouth When Sneezing
  • Use Paper Tissues  and Throw Away After Use
  • Stay Hydrated

#3: Know the Symptoms

Learning the symptoms of the flu can help you catch it early and avoid long term health problems. Flu symptoms come on quickly and are usually more severe than cold symptoms and can make you feel ill up to several weeks. If the flu progresses, it can cause serious health problems such as pneumonia and hospitalizations. Call your doctor immediately if you experience shortness of breath or any other severe symptoms.

Common Signs of the Flu:

  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Head and body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Headache

For more flu prevention tips visit www.HelpStoptheFlu.com, listen to this report from WTOP Radio, and check out this video from Fox 5.

Tell us, how will you fight the flu this season?