The arrival of fall can often usher in a cold or flu, but taking a few preventive actions now can reduce the chances of becoming ill. Your best defense, as always, is to get a flu shot. Dr. Amber Hyde, an independently practicing physician on the medical staff of Methodist Mansfield Medical Center, recommends a seasonal flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against the seasonal flu.“People with underlying health problems, chronic illnesses or in high-risk groups, including pregnant women, children younger than age 5 and people age 50 and older are urged to get a flu shot,” Hyde says. “That group includes people who have chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.”Anyone who lives with or is in close contact with someone on that list should also make getting the flu vaccine a priority, she continues. Vaccines are safe and effective, and it’s especially important that people at high risk for getting complications from the flu — such as pneumonia —get the flu vaccine. Human immune defenses become weaker with age, which places older people at greater risk of severe illness from influenza. Aging can also decrease the body’s ability to have a good immune response after getting an influenza vaccine. Hyde says there are several new vaccines available for specific needs. Fluzone High-Dose is for adults 65 and older. It contains four times the amount of antigen (the part of the vaccine that prompts the body to make antibodies), which helps to give older people a better immune response and, therefore, better protection against the flu. Flublok is a vaccine for adults 18 through 49 that does not use eggs and has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. What else can you do? Most important, wash your hands often with soap and warm water.“Colds are most commonly spread with hands or objects contaminated with nasal secretions from coughing or sneezing,” Hyde says. “Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze to keep from spreading the flu viruses to others, then discard the tissue after use. “You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth to prevent the direct spread of the virus from your hands to susceptible areas on your face, and avoid contact with sick people to keep from being infected,” she continued.In addition to maintaining good hygiene, the foods you eat can make a difference. Hyde recommends eating healthy high-energy foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains that will enhance the immune system, as well as drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. She also advises getting plenty of rest, at least seven to eight hours a night. If you do get sick, it is important that you take good care of yourself and visit a family care physician who can help you recover without significant complications. Hyde reminds us that a runny nose, watering eyes, body aches and high fever are typical symptoms of the flu. If it is allergies, the eyes will be watering and itching, the nose will have a discharge and your head will ache. Cold symptoms are usually a stuffy nose and sore throat without a fever or headache. Texas law prohibits hospitals from practicing medicine. The physicians on the Methodist Health System medical staff are independent practitioners who are not employees or agents of Methodist Health System or Methodist Mansfield Medical Center. The content of this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your physician or other health care provider regarding any medical conditions or decisions about medical care.