Flu season generally starts in October and ends in May. With all the recent news regarding the deadly Ebola virus on everyone’s mind, we need to remember that the flu virus can also be deadly – an estimated 36,000 people die each year from the flu. Individuals 65 and older and people with weakened immune systems such as heart, lung and kidney disease have an increased risk of becoming seriously ill from the flu.

The good news is that you can get a vaccination for the flu, which should be received every year unless there is a specific allergy or contraindication to that vaccine or if you are not feeling well. People with severe, life-threatening allergies or a history of Guillain-Barr’e syndrome also may be advised not to receive the flu vaccine.

The flu has already been diagnosed this year in several areas, so if you have not yet had your vaccine, make it a priority to receive it as soon as possible. All dialysis clinics should have an ample supply of the vaccine on hand by this time as well as your local health department.

Initial symptoms of the flu can be sore throat, cough, fever/chills, muscle aches, headache, runny or stuffy nose and fatigue lasting from 8 to 12 days.

If you are exposed to the flu, you also have the potential of infecting others in your everyday travels. For example, think of how many door handles you touch in one day and who else might also touch them. Simple hand washing and covering your mouth and or nose when sneezing or coughing (with the crook of your arm vs your hand) will help prevent transmission of the virus. Flu viruses change every year.

Each year the flu vaccine is formulated to protect against 3 to 4 different viruses. Some illnesses that are not caused by the flu virus are mistaken for the flu.

Like any other medicine, there may be mild side effects that should resolve on their own. Years ago, the flu vaccine was made with a live virus that caused mild to moderate symptoms in some people, but recent flu vaccines are now formulated without the live virus. It takes 2 weeks for antibodies to develop after receiving the vaccine. The vaccine lasts several months to a year.

For more information, visit: www.cdc.gov/flu