PORTLAND The flu season starts in October, but local doctors and the Centers for Disease Control were urging the public to get flu shots early this year to avoid last year s deluge of flu hospitalizations.

The start of school increases the opportunity for germs to spread and getting vaccinated now could protect families from the flu.

With schools in session, the spread of germs is inevitable and now is the time to protect yourself and your family from influenza, said Dr. Bruce Irwin, owner of American Family Care Doctors Express. It is highly predictable that if you get a flu shot, your chances of getting the flu are significantly less.

Timing is also key. Studies which analyzed the effectiveness of flu shots found that during the 2011-12 flu season, the vaccines' power dropped sharply after three to four months. This meant that by mid-February, the vaccine was less than 1 percent effective.

Some drugstores and facilities have been stocking up on flu vaccines and scheduling clinics.

The timing of the flu season is very unpredictable and can vary every year. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. in January or February. However, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue to occur as late as May, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. While there are many different flu viruses, the flu vaccine is designed to protect against the three main flu strains that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season.

Getting the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available each year is always a good idea, and the protection you get from vaccination will last throughout the flu season, according to the CDC.

Experts said, in addition to getting a flu shot, a few precautions could help keep people protected from the virus.

Washing hands frequently, cleaning household items with disinfectants and avoiding contact with sick people can help stop the spread of the flu virus. Another tip is to bring your own pen to the bank and grocery store and stay home if you think you have the flu.

More from CDC:Flu prevention tips & symptoms

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