Fall officially begins next week, which means flu season won't be far behind. After last year's deadly season, health officials are urging people to start taking precautions to protect themselves and their families.
The best line of defense is to get a flu vaccine now, said Dr. John Torres, a medical correspondent for NBC News.
“You want to protect yourself each and every year because you have no idea what’s going to happen,” he said.
Torres also answered some questions from TODAY anchors about the upcoming flu season, precautions and symptoms of the nasty virus.
Is it too early to get a flu vaccine now?
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend getting a vaccine now — or definitely the end of October, when the time flu season kicks off.
Vulnerable populations most at risk for coming down with flu should get the vaccine as soon as possible. These groups include:
- Young children
- People 65 or older
- Pregnant women
- People who have underlying illnesses
How effective is the vaccine?
It’s hard to predict for this year’s batch, Torres said. Last year’s vaccine proved to be 25 percent effective against the H3N2 strain, but about 40 percent effective overall against influenza A and B.
No vaccine is perfect, but it will offer the best protection against what can be a dangerous illness, Torres said.
“You still want to get the vaccine. It saves you from hospitalizations and more importantly, it saves you from dying because of the flu,” he said.
About 710,000 people were hospitalized for the flu in the 2017-18 season, according to the CDC.
The FluMist is back. Is it right for my child?
While the nasal spray may be preferred by needle-averse children, the American Academy of Pediatrics still recommends getting traditional flu vaccines. The FluMist should be considered only if the regular vaccine isn't an option.
Any child older than 6 months should get a vaccination.
How do I know if I have the flu or just of a nasty cold?
Torres said that anyone who has had the flu knows because of the way the symptoms suddenly escalate.
“You go from feeling kind of bad to feeling really bad and just can’t get out of bed. That’s the flu,” he said.
Common flu symptoms include:
- Comes on suddenly
- Higher fevers
- Body aches
- Overall malaise