THURSDAY, Jan. 10 (HealthDay News) -- With the United States in the throes of one of the worst flu outbreaks in years, health-care experts say there are ways you can fight back and protect yourself from the virus.
And the best protection is a flu shot -- even now.
"People should ideally get the flu shot at the beginning of the flu season which really starts in October," said Dr. Robert Graham, an internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "So the sooner the better. But at the same time, whenever you can get the shot I strongly recommend it. It's the least painful way of combating the flu."
The good news is that this year's vaccine is an excellent match for the strains of influenza now circulating.
The not-so-great news is that the vaccine takes about two weeks to become fully effective in your body. And even people who have been vaccinated can contract the flu virus, though this is uncommon.
The predominant strain so far this year is H3N2, and doctors note that when H3N2 dominates, they tend to see more severe illness among children and the elderly.
For those who haven't yet had a flu shot -- and even for those who have -- there are other simple precautions people can and should take to minimize the chances of contracting what's turning out to be an especially infectious and unpleasant illness.
First and foremost is to wash your hands, said nurse Kristen Lawton, director of the emergency department at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y.
"If you can't use soap and water, use the hand soap in a pump or the alcohol-based preparation," she said.
Lawton said her emergency room has been seeing about 15 more patients a day with flu-related illness since Christmas, compared to before the holidays.
The next best advice is to avoid touching your face with your hands. "I tell my kids to keep their hands away fro
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