(CBS Local) — Autumn has just begun and federal health officials are already urging people to start preparing for another potentially nasty flu season.

Flu season generally tends to run from October to March in the U.S. However, doctors are urging patients to get the flu vaccine earlier this year in an effort to get more people vaccinated before the worst of the flu season.

Last year’s flu season was one of the most severe, with over 700,000 reported hospital visits and 180 child deaths. 80% of those children who died did not have a flu shot.

The 2017-2018 season was driven by a flu strain, known as the H3N2 virus, which tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths, particularly among young children and the elderly.

Experts say the flu vaccination remains the best way to protect yourself from the virus, as it contains dead influenza virus strains.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone six months and older should be vaccinated for influenza every season, ideally by the end of October. Even if you miss that deadline, it’s still helpful to get vaccinated as the virus is known to hang around as late as May.

“Most people with the flu have mild illness and don’t need medical care or antiviral drugs,” the CDC stated in a recent bulletin. “If you get sick with flu symptoms – fever, cough, sore throat, runny/stuff nose, body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting – stay home, don’t travel, and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.”

Websites such as https://vaccinefinder.org can help you locate flu vaccinations in your neighborhood.

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