NEW YORK (WABC) -- It's only October, but doctors are already issuing warnings about the flu and urging people -- especially those most vulnerable -- to get a flu shot.
Health officials are hoping procrastinators don't wait much longer to get their vaccine. It's still early in the season, but already, two people have died from influenza in North Carolina.
Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable, as well as those with certain medical issues like asthma, COPD or other respiratory problems.
The urgency this year follows staggering numbers from last flu season, which CDC officials estimate killed 80,000 people, including 180 children.
That was the highest estimated death toll in nearly 40 years.
On top of that, nearly 1 million people had to be hospitalized, with some facilities even setting up tents outside to treat the sick.
Less than half the U.S. population got the vaccine in 2017, and even with a very low effectiveness, officials say it remains the best defense.
The ideal time to get the shot is before the end of October.
From the CDC: Preventing the Flu - Good Health Habits Can Help Stop Germs
The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, but good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu.
There also are flu antiviral drugs that can be used to treat and prevent flu. The tips and resources below will help you learn about steps you can take to protect yourself and others from flu and help stop the spread of germs.
1. Avoid close contact
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
2. Stay home when you are sick
If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
3. Cover your mouth and nose
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Flu and other serious respiratory illnesses, like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), are spread by cough, sneezing, or unclean hands.
4. Clean your hands
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.
6. Practice other good health habits.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
For more tips visit CDC.gov/flu/protect/habits/index.htm.
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Doctors, health officials urge flu shots ahead of flu season