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In the past, if you wanted to protect yourself against the flu but were afraid to get a shot, you could get the vaccine through a nasal spray. But this coming flu season, the CDC recommends children and adults get only the vaccine, not the nasal spray. Data from 2013 to 2016 shows that the nasal spray isn’t effective compared to the vaccine, especially for children ages 2 to 17.

“Getting a flu shot each year gives you the best chance of avoiding the flu all season,” said James Joseph McKenna III, DO, a primary care physician at Geisinger Mount Pleasant in Scranton. “It’s an important step that can keep you from getting the strains of the virus that scientists believe will be the most common each year.”

The flu vaccine is recommended for anyone 6 months or older, especially pregnant women, people with asthma, heart and lung problems, diabetes, or people over 65.

To be protected throughout the entire flu season, it’s recommended to get it before the end of October — when flu season typically begins.

In addition to the flu vaccine, there are other ways you can protect yourself from the flu.

Avoid close contact

If someone around you like a family member or co-worker has the flu, keeping your distance can prevent you from getting it, too. However, when you’re going about daily tasks like grocery shopping or running errands, it can be difficult to stay away from others who might have the flu virus.

Wash your hands

Good hygiene is essential to preventing the flu. If you use public transportation, public restrooms or touch a lot of surfaces that might be germ-covered like the checkout counter at the grocery or drug store, be sure to wash your hands. You should also wash them after you shake hands with someone during flu season.

“Wash your hands using warm, soapy water and lathering for 20 seconds, and don’t forget to rub soap between your fingers, under your nails and on the back of your hands,” said Dr. McKenna.

If you can’t wash your hands as frequently as you’d like, you can carry antibacterial hand sanitizer as a backup.

Use disinfecting wipes on surfaces

It becomes more important to clean surfaces that may carry the flu virus during the fall and winter months. Carry disinfecting wipes to clean desks, handrails, counters, door handles and any other things many people might touch every day. The flu virus can live on a surface for up to eight hours.

Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose

It might be second nature to rub your eye, scratch your nose or touch your mouth. Take extra care not to do this during flu season — this is how germs spread faster. Be cognizant of the surfaces you touch, and wash your hands before touching your face.

Take care of yourself

Eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as getting about eight hours of sleep, will keep your immune system strong and help you stay flu free during the season. Exercising regularly can also boost your immune system, as well as help to lower your stress levels and give you energy. Just wipe down that treadmill or weights before and after you use them.

If you’ve taken preventive measures but you think you may be coming down with the flu, avoid getting near other people and be sure to cover your mouth when you cough. It’s also important to stay home from work if you have the flu.

“If you’re sick with the flu, take time off work or work from home until your fever is gone for 24 hours and you’re no longer contagious,” said Dr. McKenna.

It’s easier than ever to get vaccinated:

  • Stop by your Geisinger doctor's office any weekday between Sept. 12 and Dec. 2 during regular office hours. No appointment necessary.

  • Schedule an appointment with your Geisinger provider by calling 800-275-6401 between 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. (and say "Flu shot" when prompted).

  • Stop by any Geisinger Careworks location seven days a week during regular business hours.