OSCEOLA COUNTY — When attempting to stay healthy each year during the cold and flu season, prevention is one of the most important steps.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is urging Michigan residents to get vaccinated against influenza (flu), a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses which can cause mild to severe illness.

Robin Walicki, immunization coordinator with District Health Department No. 10, said people should get vaccinated as soon as possible, and the vaccine typically becomes available toward the end of August.

“We’d like to see that we decrease cases early on so people don’t spread it later on in the flu season. That way we can prevent a lot of cases,” Walicki said.

According to the MDHHS, three Michigan residents this week tested positive for seasonal influenza. A resident who attended a conference in Grand Rapids and two family members tested positive for the virus after approximately 120 attendees of the conference reported illnesses. Testing is reported to be ongoing in Michigan and other states, as attendees of the conference were from around the country.

Walicki said although steps like handwashing and staying home when sick are necessary for trying to avoid contracting the flu, preventing the illness can be challenging, and getting the vaccine is the best option.

“Getting the flu vaccine is the most important thing you can do. It’s not perfect, but it’s highly recommended because it gives you a chance to prevent it,” she said.

Walicki explained even if someone contracts the flu after receiving the vaccination, it is likely they will have a less serious case.

She added it is particularly important for children and people ages 65 years and older, people with chronic health conditions and pregnant women to be vaccinated as they can be more susceptible. MDHHS added the flu vaccination for pregnant women protects both the mother and the unborn child.

Outbreaks of the flu are typically associated with settings where people have close, prolonged contact, such as long-term care facilities, schools, college dorms and conferences, and can cause fever, sore throat, cough, body aches, runny or stuff nose, headaches and fatigue. People already infected with the flu also can spread the virus to others before they feel sick themselves.

“The flu should be taken seriously because it can have serious and even deadly consequences,” said Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive for MDHHS, in a press release.

For more information about vaccinations in Michigan, visit michigan.gov/immunize and michigan.gov/flu. To find a vaccine near you, visit vaccine.healthmap.org.