With the flu season hitting early and strong this year, check out five things you need to know about this year’s flu.

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1. When should I call a doctor?

If you are at high risk of complications, you should call a doctor as soon as you have signs of the flu. People at high risk include those ages 65 and older and those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or compromised immune systems. There are other types of high risk, so be aware of your own personal situation.

2. Is there any point in getting a flu shot?

Yes. While it takes two weeks for your immunity to build up, you will gain protection in advance of the normal peak of the flu season, which is January into February in the greater Omaha metro area. Even people with healthy constitutions can become seriously ill with the flu — the strains most active this year are hitting healthy young adults the hardest. By getting vaccinated, you’ll lessen the chances that you’ll become ill and infect someone you love.

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3. Who needs the vaccine most?

Pregnant women and anyone who will be around infants, people ages 65 and older and those with chronic health problems.

4. Does the flu shot prevent the flu?

You can still get the flu if you are vaccinated, but there is research that indicates the vaccine can reduce the severity of your illness. The vaccine commonly available this year protects against four strains of the flu, including the two strains that are so widespread in Douglas County.

5. Is the problem just in Douglas County?

No. Nebraska is among the states with the highest incidence of flu this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another indicator of the severity is the Walgreens Flu Index. As of Dec. 14, the national drugstore chain ranked the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area as highest in the nation for people filling prescriptions for antiviral medication. Nebraska also leads the nation, according to Walgreens. Douglas County Health officials say those rankings mirror the data they’re seeing.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control, Mayo Clinic, Douglas County Health Department

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Nancy Gaarder helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow her on Twitter @gaarder. Phone: 402-444-1102.

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