For the holidays, get that flu shot

As families make plans to come together this holiday season, it might be a good idea to get that flu shot.

Word comes from Marquette that UPHS-Marquette and Bell hospitals have put visitor restrictions in place due to a recent spike in the rate of respiratory illness and the flu. Those who are ill with cough, fever, sore throat and other related symptoms are not permitted. The Family Birthing Center limits visitors to parents, labor coaches and grandparents, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to only parents.

And nationwide, flu seems to have surfaced early this year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, seven states already have widespread flu: Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Virginia. The entire U.S. — including Michigan and Wisconsin — shows at least local flu activity.

Normally, flu season doesn’t start establishing itself until Christmas or afterwards. It bodes badly considering this is the week when colleges tend to wrap up their studies for the year, sending students home for a holiday break that for most won’t end until January.

Families and friends within mere days will get together to swap stories, food, presents … and whatever malady might be making its way through the schools, universities and workplaces.

Such seasonal travel provides an ideal conduit to let illness radiate through a wider area.

Going into the holidays, experts recommend:

— Individuals with signs of illness should stay home and not go into the community, except to seek medical care.

— Avoid large group gatherings.

— Cancel events that would require large groups to come together.

— If showing signs of illness, avoid gathering with high-risk populations, such as infants, the elderly, immunocompromised and pregnant women.

— Wash hands. Often.

— Cover your mouth when coughing.

For those who seem in good health: Update vaccinations on yourself and children when needed; consult your physician on which shots are advisable.

It might not prevent illness now. Vaccinations usually take at least two weeks to trigger an immunity response, according to the CDC.

But the main flu season usually doesn’t arrive until January or later. A vaccination can temper the severity of the disease. And there’s no evidence getting your shots can cause the malady itself.

So there’s still a good reason to make sure you’re protected against whatever viral threat might loom, not just for now but the New Year to come.