The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) today said the flu season has started earlier than usual and recommended that people take steps to prevent the spread of flu.\u00a0 \n\n\u0022Every flu season is different, but usually cases of influenza reach their peak in January, February or even March,\u0022\u00a0said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH. \u0022This year we are seeing a very rapid increase in influenza-like illness across Massachusetts, along with an increase in confirmed flu cases. This suggests that Massachusetts may be having an earlier start.\u00a0 It is important that we all take steps to prevent flu from spreading, including getting a flu shot because it is among the best protection we have.\u0022\n\nThis week (December 3-9, 2017) is National Influenza Vaccination Week, a national awareness week focused on highlighting the importance of flu vaccination. \n\nAs a reminder, DPH recommends that people:\n\nGet the flu vaccine as soon as possible\n\tWash their hands thoroughly and regularly, or use hand sanitizer\n\tCover their coughs and sneezes\n\tStay home when they are sick with fever and cough or sore throat, if possible\n\tTalk to their healthcare provider if they think they have the flu, especially if they have health concerns that make them more likely to develop severe illness when sick with the flu. The doctor may prescribe antiviral medications, which work best when started early in the course of illness.\nThe most common symptoms of flu are a fever accompanied by a cough or sore throat. Symptoms can also include body aches, headache, chills, runny nose and feeling very tired. Some people, especially young children, also have diarrhea and vomiting.\u00a0 Symptoms last from a few days to up to a week or more.\n\nFlu can be very serious. Every year in the United States, millions of people get the flu, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands or tens of thousands of people die from flu-related illnesses. Some people are at higher risk of serious health problems when they get the flu.\u00a0This includes pregnant women, infants, the elderly and people with medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, neurological and neuromuscular conditions and weakened immune systems. The flu vaccine takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against flu virus infection. \n\nThe flu virus is spread through droplets of saliva and mucus from the nose and mouth of someone who coughs or sneezes.\u00a0If you are close enough to a person with the flu (3-to-6 feet) when they cough or sneeze, you can breathe in the virus and get sick. Flu symptoms start 1-4 days (usually 2 days) after a person breathes in the virus.\n\nThe flu virus can also live for a short time on things you touch, such as doorknobs, phones and toys.\u00a0After you touch these objects, you can catch the virus when you touch your mouth, nose, or eyes.\u00a0Adults with flu can spread it from about one day before symptoms appear to about one week after. Children can spread the flu even longer after they get sick.\n\nFor more information about influenza, visit www.mass.gov/flu.\n\nDetailed weekly flu surveillance reports and other related flu articles are posted on the Mass Public Health Blog.\n\nFor questions, call your local board of health, your healthcare provider, or DPH at (617) 983-6800.