Story By Marshall Dawer

Cooler weather, football and falling leaves – the classic signs of Fall are upon us, which means flu season has also arrived.
Influenza – or the flu, as it is commonly known – is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death.  About 5 percent to 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu each year, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
The flu costs the United States more than $87 billion annually and is responsible for the loss of about 17 million workdays and substantial classroom time each flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Unfortunately, the flu is not just a cause of missed work and school.  Every year, thousands of people die from Influenza and its complications, and more than 100 of the victims this past year were children –  twenty of them here in Texas.
The best way to protect yourself and reduce your chances of getting the flu is to get a flu vaccine. According to the CDC, everyone who is at least 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine. Getting vaccinated is especially important for people who have certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease, and for pregnant women, young children and people 65 and older.
Despite the evidence and recommendations, many people won’t get vaccinated this year – which makes it more likely they will get and transmit the flu. That puts your own personal health and well-being at risk, and it could increase the chances of your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors getting sick, too.
Consider the following:
The flu shot is not expensive.
In most cases, the cost of a flu shot is covered by your health plan, whether you health insurance on your own or are covered through your employer, Medicare or Medicaid. More employers are now offering free onsite flu shot clinics at the office. The financial and personal costs  and the potential for missed days of work or school from the flu far exceed the cost of the vaccination.
Young, healthy people get the flu, too.
Influenza does not discriminate against age or health habits. Just because you’re young or don’t typically get sick doesn’t mean you can’t catch the flu. You can catch the flu from someone who has yet to exhibit any signs or symptoms of being sick.
Getting the flu shot vaccine is fast, easy and convenient.
Getting a flu shot takes no more than five minutes. Most neighborhood pharmacies even offer walk-in options, so you don’t need to make an appointment. If you are unemployed or your employer doesn’t offer flu shots, you can go to your primary care doctor or nearby wellness clinic, most retail pharmacies or contracted flu shot providers. To find a list of flu shot providers near you, visit Flu.gov (http://www.flu.gov/prevention-vaccination/vaccination/index.html) and enter your zip code.
Take Preventive Measures
In addition to getting vaccinated, please remember to take preventive measures like washing your hands regularly to help reduce the spread of germs. And if you are sick with the flu, stay home to prevent spreading flu to others.
Flu season runs from October through May with most illnesses occurring just in time for the December holiday season. Now is the time to make your and your family’s health a priority. Get a flu shot. If you do, you’ll likely be able to enjoy the fall and holidays a little more.
Marshall Dawer M.D. M.S. F.A.C.P. ABEM