-The 2015-2016 flu season is right around the corner, and while we can’t exactly predict what it will bring, experts do agree on one thing: prevention is key to staying healthy this year.

What to Expect and When?

The risk for colds and flu usually lasts all winter, but it can start as early as October. In some regions of the country, the flu season can extend well into April or May. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers the flu season started when the first cases of hospitalizations are reported or the levels of ILI (influenza-like illness) start to rise and stay high for at least a few weeks in a row.

Flu-associated deaths often come later in the season, but the CDC also looks into these numbers to determine the duration and peak of the flu season. This usually happens between December and February, according to the CDC.

Specific Dangers and Things to Keep in Mind

Because influenza is always evolving and flu viruses are constantly changing, experts agree that there’s always the possibility that a new virus might appear during the coming winter. Because this can’t be predicted and doctors can’t guess what changes a new virus might bring, it’s important that you are prepared.

Young children, the elderly and people with a compromised immune system are at a higher risk of contracting colds and flu and suffering from complications as a result.

Children between the age of 2 and 8 cannot receive a flu shot but can use a special nasal spray vaccine (LAIV). However, only children without an underlying medical condition and in overall good health can receive this. If you think your child is a good candidate for LAIV, talk to your doctor to find out when to administer the vaccine and any precautions or contraindications to keep in mind.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones

Flu shots are currently the only way you can reduce your chances of getting sick this coming flu season.

Flu vaccines are not 100 percent effective. In fact, it’s possible that you still get sick with the flu even if have been vaccinated against influenza. This is because different people react differently to the vaccine, but also because sometimes the circulating viruses do not match those that are covered by the vaccine.

However, even if you do get sick, being vaccinated makes it more likely that you will get better faster (the illness will be milder). Plus, the vaccine is an important form of protection for people who are at risk of complications.

If you are worried about the coming flu season, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. The earlier you get vaccinated this year, the better protected you will be this winter.