Though the temperature may say otherwise and the leaves have yet to turn their autumn hues, it is technically fall in the Bluegrass State. It is also the official start of the flu season and state health officials are urging Kentuckians to get vaccinated.

The 7½-month flu season began Sunday and lasts through mid-May. However, the Department for Public Health within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services reports that there have already been 154 laboratory-confirmed flu cases across the state since Aug. 4.

Last year, the nation experienced the longest flu season ever with more than 647,000 flu-related hospitalizations and more than 61,000 deaths — including 194 in Kentucky, two of whom were children.

Health experts agree that the best tool against preventing the flu is through vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the flu shot for everyone 6 months and older, especially those at high risk for complications, including children 6 months to 5 years old; women who are or will be pregnant; adults 50 years and older; those who are extremely obese; those with chronic health problems; nursing home and long-term care residents; and health care workers.

“Getting the flu can be debilitating and sometimes life-threatening," said Dr. Angela Dearinger, commissioner of DPH. “It is extremely important to take simple preventive steps to avoid the flu and other illnesses that tend to circulate at this time of year — wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and stay home when you are sick.”

The flu vaccine is changed annually to better protect against the types of flu that were seen last season and officials expect there to be an adequate supply.

The flu virus can cause fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches and is very contagious. Because it takes roughly two weeks for the vaccine to be fully effective, officials encourage folks to get the shot now before the onslaught of the flu season.

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