SATURDAY, Sept. 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- As flu season approaches, the best way to stay healthy and avoid infection is to get a flu shot and a checkup, according to an infectious disease specialist.
A primary care doctor can vaccinate people against the flu, and also address other health concerns or issues patients may have. Retail stores may provide flu shots for their customers, but they can't dole out medical advice, said Dr. Jorge Parada, medical director of infection prevention and control for the Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill.
"At the doctor's office, the focus is on you and what is going on with your health. This is your time to talk about concerns to improve your well-being beyond the flu season," Parada said in a Loyola news release.
"You trust your store employee to help you locate items you want to buy, not to diagnose what's causing a persistent symptom, schedule other annual health maintenance exams such as mammograms or offer expert medical advice," he added.
Flu season in the United States starts Oct. 1 and lasts until March 31, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But even though it takes up to two weeks after the flu shot for its full effect to kick in, it's not a good idea to get vaccinated in September, said Parada.
"If you get your flu shot in the beginning of September, you may start running out of infection immunity by February or March, when the virus is still around," he said. "Getting the flu shot in October gives you the best chance of avoiding the flu this year."
Flu season usually peaks between late December and early February, Parada added. Throughout flu season, missed work and health-care expenses end up costing Americans millions of dollars, he noted in the news release. The flu can also claim lives.
When it comes to the flu as well as other infectious diseases, such as polio and whooping cough, everyone needs to get vaccinated in order to stop the spread of the virus, he said.
"When people are universally vaccinated, those infections are largely eliminated. It may not sound sexy but it is everyone's civic responsibility to protect themselves and their community," explained Parada.
Those typically hit hardest by the flu are the very young, the elderly or chronically ill, and pregnant women.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides additional flu prevention tips.