OSCEOLA COUNTY — As the holidays approach, oftentimes influenza season ramps up. There's still plenty of time for people to get a flu shot, however, to protect themselves and others.

Flu season in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The virus-borne disease can have serious results: The CDC estimates flu-related deaths since 2010 have ranged from 12,000 to 56,000.

"The best way to reduce your chances of getting the seasonal flu and reducing the chance of giving it to others, is to get a flu shot," said Scott Lombard, director of community outreach and health education at Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals. "The more people get vaccinated, the less flu will spread through a community. The flu vaccine saves lives.

"People don't think that way, because if I'm in my 40s and pretty healthy, I might decide I'll just lay on the couch and tough it out. But before you feel sick, the virus is cruising through your body and you're interacting with people in the community. You could be passing the virus to somebody with a low immune system."

CDC recommendations call for everyone 6 months old and older to get a flu shot, with very limited exceptions. Children younger than 6 months of age and people with severe, life-threatening allergies to the vaccine or any ingredient in it should not get the shot. People with egg allergies, who have ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome or who are not feeling well should discuss the shot with their doctor prior to vaccination.

A common concern for people is catching the flu from the vaccine, which isn't possible, Lombard said.

"No, you can't get the flu from a flu shot," he said. "It's a dead virus — Nobody gets the flu from a flu shot. If you think about how viruses work, it's probably been in your body for 10 days to two weeks before you feel sick."

It takes about two weeks after vaccination for an individual to develop antibodies to the flu, according to the CDC. Traditional flu vaccines protect against three strains of influenza; quadrivalent vaccines protect against four strains.

Flu shots are widely available and are fairly inexpensive, Lombard noted.

"There are so many opportunities to go different places to get a flu shot," he said. "There are pharmacies open seven days a week, as well as doctors' offices and the health department. There are ample opportunities to get a flu shot, and it's really not that expensive.

"Getting a flu shot helps prevent the spread of flu and works on decreasing the amount of people annually who die from the flu."