With the 2019-2020 flu season underway, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) encourages all Virginians age 6 months and older who haven’t received their annual influenza vaccine to get one now. State health officials gathered Friday to highlight the importance of the vaccine and to receive a flu shot themselves.

“As a physician, I applaud all Virginians who have already received their flu vaccine and encourage those who haven’t to make time to get their flu vaccine as soon as possible,” said Daniel Carey, M.D., secretary of health and human resources. “It’s not too late to vaccinate against this serious illness. Protecting yourselves, your family and your community against the flu starts with getting vaccinated.”

M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A., state health commissioner, echoed Carey’s advice. “Getting vaccinated is important since even mild cases of influenza can lead to lost time at work or with friends and family,” Oliver said. “Hopefully most Virginians have already been vaccinated, but now is still a great time to get your flu shot – before the winter holidays when we gather with friends and family.”

Flu season, the period of highest influenza activity, normally begins in October and ends in late May. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that vaccination by the end of October is preferred, vaccination in November and beyond can be beneficial during most flu seasons, since influenza activity usually peaks in January or later.

Current flu activity in Virginia is at the “local” level, meaning that there has been lab activity with either elevated influenza like illness or more than one outbreak in one region of the state. See the weekly influenza activity report (www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/influenza-flu-in-virginia/influenza-surveillance/) for more information.

In addition to being vaccinated, everyone should follow a few guidelines to avoid getting sick or spreading illness to others:

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

• Stay home when you are sick to prevent spreading your illness to others.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.

• Clean your hands – with soap if available, or if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

• 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.

• Practice other good health habits, like cleaning surfaces, getting plenty of physical activity and sleep, staying hydrated and eating nutritious food.

For more information on seasonal influenza and flu vaccinations, visit www.misstheflu.com and www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm.