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Planning for flu season starts now

Getting back into the swing of the school year includes protecting your family from viruses.

But even though cold and flu season may seem far away, now is the time to think about flu vaccines.

In fact, doctors say a handful of patients at the St. Augustine and Middleburg CareSpot have already been diagnosed with both A & B strains of influenza in the past week alone. Providers said it's not clear if these are a result of the last flu season or a sign that this season may be off to an early start. But they said now is the time to protect your family.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging everyone, six-months or older, to get the flu shot before the end of next month. Children under the age of eight who have never received a flu vaccine need two doses. The agency has expanded its annual recommendation after two drug-makers lowered the age receiving the vaccine and the dosing level. 

According to Dr. Frank Esper, of Cleveland Clinic Children's, it's best to have children receive their flu vaccines as soon as they're available, to make sure their immune systems are ready to fight.

"The best time to get the flu vaccine is before flu spreads," he said. "It takes anywhere between 2 to 4 weeks for your immune system to ramp up and be protected after you get your vaccination." 

There are several misconceptions about the flu vaccine -- one of them being that you can get the flu from the vaccine.

Esper said this is a myth.

"The flu shot is a dead vaccine; it is a bunch of pieces and parts of the flu that cannot grow and cause infection. You cannot get infected with the flu shot," he said. 

The flu is a severe respiratory illness that comes with a high fever, aches, chills, and has a sudden onset.

Because the flu virus has the ability to change, sometimes mid-season, the flu vaccine is not a guarantee that your family will avoid the flu altogether.

"The flu vaccines not one hundred percent, but it's the best thing we have to prevent getting the flu,"  Dr. Craig Dolven, Family Practice Physician Orange Park Medical, said. But it greatly reduces your chances of catching it -- and without flu immunization, you're rolling the dice.

"Even healthy, young adults, older adults, children -- even if they have no other problems -- they can get really bad flu," Esper said. "They can be hospitalized; they can get bad pneumonias, and they can die. There are certain people that are more at risk of being hospitalized, and of dying. When you get your vaccination, you're not only protecting yourself, you're protecting those individuals around you whom you come in contact with." 

This year's vaccine protects against three common strains of the virus. Flu season typically starts in late fall and peaks over the winter months. The CDC estimates last year, up to 42 million people got sick and there were at least 36,000 flu-related deaths. 

According to the Florida Department of Health, flu activity is low right now, but it does expect a moderate increase in the next few weeks as flu season approaches.