The flu season may be winding down, but it’s not too soon to start thinking about the next one and what all of us must do differently if we are to avoid a repeat of the epidemic of the past few months.

Up to 20 percent of Americans get the flu each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 200,000 are hospitalized, and on average, 36,000 die as a result.

These victims are not just the chronically ill or elderly: about 100 children die from the infection annually, and 20,000 are hospitalized. Most of these youngsters were perfectly healthy before this unpredictable virus struck.

Although most flu victims recover within a few days to two weeks, some develop debilitating, even life-threatening, complications: pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections or ear infections. Even after recovery, the flu can cause lingering post viral fatigue and weakness.

Despite all this, only a minority of American adults, and less than one child in five, receives an annual vaccination, the best protection against the flu. It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to be fully protective, and the best time to get it is in September or early October, before flu season begins in the united states.

But even after the flu becomes widespread or is on the wane it can continue to make people sick until sometime in May, the vaccine can be protective.