As we enter the 2013-2014 influenza season, now is the time for your annual flu shot. There is no better way to protect yourself, your family, and your coworkers or patients than by getting vaccinated.

Predicting the timing, activity, or severity of the flu from year-to-year is difficult – that is one reason getting the vaccine is so important. CDC recommends a flu shot each and every year for everyone over 6 months of age.

The flu shot, which is largely available at no charge to HCA employees, protects against three strains of the virus. These three strains are the ones predicted to be the most active during this year’s season.

Many people think of the flu as a mild illness. Often it is, but for some people, including those at higher risk for developing complications, it can be life-threatening. Young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with medical problems like asthma or cancer are more likely to develop complications or even die from the flu. During some seasons, almost 50,000 Americans have died from flu-related complications, making influenza the number one vaccine-preventable disease and cause of death in the United States.

Getting the shot isn’t all you can do to prevent the flu. Also remember to distance yourself from anyone who is sick and wash your hands frequently. If you are sick with the flu, stay home and away from others. If you have tested positive for influenza, your doctor may prescribe medication.  Influenza antiviral drugs can prevent complications from the flu and shorter the length of the illness.

For those of you who have already been vaccinated, thank you. And for those of you who haven’t yet had the opportunity to get the shot, I encourage you to do so as soon as possible.

For more information on the prevention and treatment of the flu, please visit CDC ‘s Seasonal Influenza pages.