As soon as the kids get back to school, the discussion inevitably shifts to the arrival of flu season. While the Center for Disease Control (CDC) can’t be precise about the number of people who die every year from seasonal flu, we do know that people, particularly the very young and the elderly, are frequently hospitalized for secondary influenza-related conditions. Infections like pneumonia and bronchitis are common, making preventative measures vital when it comes to protecting both you and your family this winter and flu season.

Flu Shots: Who Should Get Them?

It seems that every year, we’re still talking about the efficacy of flu vaccines and who should get them. Because the influenza virus mutates constantly (the annual vaccine targets the most common outbreak from the previous season), there’s no way to predict whether or not the vaccine works 100 percent of the time. However, there are still people who can benefit greatly from it and should get vaccinated regardless. Immune compromised patients, including people infected with HIV, should receive an annual vaccine, as should the elderly and young children whose immune systems aren’t as strong as the average adult. The CDC recommends an annual shot for everyone by the end of October to get a head start on the season ahead.

Three Words: Wash Your Hands

Viruses spread mostly through hand-to-hand contact. So, during the height of flu season, take your mother’s advice and wash your hands regularly. If you work in a profession that requires you to shake a lot of hands, this is the time of year to carry around wipes or sanitizer in your bag or the car. Moms and dads need to remind your children to wash up in the bathroom and to take special precautions around friends and playmates when they’re sick. When you do come into contact with a sick person, make sure you avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth until you can wash up.

Don’t Be a Hero: Stay Home

It doesn’t matter how busy and demanding your job is. The minute you feel an illness coming on, like a cold, fever, sore throat or the sniffles, take it easy. You’re not doing yourself any favors if you go into work sick. You are, however, doing a great disservice to your coworkers who could pick up whatever it is that you’re carrying. If you do have a fever, the CDC would like it very much if you would stay home for at least 24 hours after your temperature returns to normal to ensure the infection is gone. (For you go-getters out there: “gone” means that your temp is normal without the use of meds.) If you hear anyone sneezing at work, avoid them and politely ask that they to go home. Better yet, talk to your HR director or your supervisors to implement an awesome sick day policy that encourages infected colleagues to rest up until they’re fit for duty. If the kids are sneezy and sniffly, keep them home, too. They’re never too young to learn that sometimes, you just have to Netflix and chill until you feel better.

Protect Yourself and Others While You’re Out

There are moments when we all have to leave the house when we’re sick. When you do, bring a little portable pack of tissues so you can sneeze into them and throw them away immediately. Another good habit is to cover your mouth into your elbow crease, so you don’t get those pesky germs on your hands. Remember that when you are in public during flu season, sick people touch things like keypads, pens and doorknobs. There’s no reason to start acting like a full-blown germaphobe, but it’s completely acceptable to use your own pen when signing a receipt at a restaurant or use hand sanitizer after you’ve touches a door or register keypad. When there’s a sick person in the house, use anti-bacterial wipes or a disinfectant spray to lightly spray surfaces like the remote control, computer keyboards, doorknobs, light switches and car steering wheels.

If you suffer from an autoimmune disorder or another type of chronic illness, consult your doctor before getting a shot. If you’re in good health, however, since there’s no harm in getting the shot, stop by your doctor’s office or a local pharmacy to get the flu vaccine this season. It only takes a few minutes, it’s extremely affordable and it could be a literal lifesaver.