The arrival of temperate days and cool nights is a sign that autumn has arrived. It also is a signal that flu season is nearly here. That's a reminder that should not be ignored. Influenza -- better known as the flu -- is still can be a killer despite growing understanding of the disease and its treatment. Thousands of Americans die of the flu and its complications each year. The toll is unnecessarily high.
Immunizations -- the flu shot -- can help reduce the toll. The annual inoculations are safe and effective. Though the numbers of those who get a shot are rising, there are still many individuals who do not. That increases the likelihood that a highly communicable disease will spread and put everyone, particularly the very young and the old, at risk.
Public health officials are working in conjunction with medical professionals and other groups to increase the number of people who get vaccinations. New guidelines that recommend that everyone 6 months or older, with few exceptions, should get flu vaccine annually make the task a bit easier. So do changes in insurance and other medical coverage. In many instances now, private insurers will pay for flu shots and public health and entitlement programs that make inoculations available to the uninsured can provide them at no or low cost. The increase in vaccinations is beneficial, particularly for youngsters.
Those in the 6-18 age group often have high flu attack rates and thus play a major role in the transmission of the illness. Kids get sick at school, then go home and promptly pass the illness to family members of all ages -- who turn spread the illness among co-workers, neighbors and others. The move toward universal vaccination of the populace should reduce some traditional vectors of disease transmission.
The availability of vaccine at walk-in-clinics, pharmacies, employer-sponsored health fairs, churches and other sites as well as in doctor and health department offices is a positive development in the battle against the flu. People, it seems, are willing to get a shot if they don't have to make a special trip to get one.
For years, getting a flu shot was mostly limited to the elderly and those with medical conditions that made them susceptible to the illness. In the last decade, the number of very young children vaccinated has risen steadily. More recently, older kids, teens and young and not-so-young adults have been getting vaccinated at a higher rate. That's another step in promoting better public health. Higher vaccination rates can lead to stronger barriers against the spread of what often is a debilitating, deadly disease.
It's not too early to get a shot. Though flu usually doesn't afflict many people here until December and January, it can arrive in October. Be warned.