With all the news of Ebola and enterovirus, it’s easy to forget that a much more common threat is upon us: flu season.

“We started seeing flu cases around late August, which is earlier than you would typically expect,” said Karen Yerkes, nursing manager at UCF Health Services. “We also made flu shots available earlier than we ever have before, around late September, so that our students could protect themselves.”

UCF Health Services is a flu sentinel site, meaning it collects samples from those with flu-like symptoms, and gets confirmation from the state lab on the strain of flu present. This information is used by the Florida Department of Health, which collaborates with scientists across the nation to predict the most common flu strains so that they are included in the flu vaccine.

Flu is highly contagious and spread via droplets (such as sneezing) or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your face. If you catch the flu, expect body aches, coughing, runny nose, fever and chills lasting a few days up to two weeks. The good news is that you can prevent the most common strains of the flu by getting a flu shot each year. Flu season typically runs from October to April, with most cases being reported in February.

Yerkes said now is the time to get a flu vaccine because it takes two weeks after getting the shot to become fully immunized.

“Last year, the most common strains of flu were the ones included in the flu vaccine,” Yerkes said. “It’s too early in the season to comment about this year’s vaccine matching the most common flu strains, but it’s predicted to be very similar to last year.”

Health Services has made a number of changes over the years to increase the number of students getting a flu shot. This includes making the shot free for all students, hosting walk-in flu-shot clinics inside the health center, as well as mobile flu-shot clinics at various locations on UCF’s campuses to make it as easy and convenient for students as possible. Everyone 6 months and older should have a flu vaccine every year, not only to protect themselves, but also to protect loved ones. Those under 6 months and those over 65 are at greater risk for complications associated with the flu.

The Health Center offers free walk-in flu shots for students Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., or check www.hs.ucf.edu for a schedule of the mobile flu-shot clinic.

For more information about the flu and flu vaccine, visit the Orange County Health Department’s website at www.orchd.com.