It’s October, and that means you can do something to help yourself and countless others with a trip to a clinic or doctor.

Getting a flu shot reduces the chances that you will miss work because of illness this winter.

For kids, flu shots make it more likely that they will stay healthy and in school or daycare.

Vaccinated people are also less likely to make coworkers and classmates sick. We are less likely to pass along what could prove to be deadly flu viruses to babies, older relatives and friends with respiratory conditions or heart ailments.

Last winter, a nasty version of the flu combined with low immunization rates and a less-effective vaccine to produce one of the deadliest flu seasons in decades.

More than 80,000 Americans died of the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In Kansas, influenza was the direct cause of death for nearly 200 people last winter, according to health officials. And the flu and pneumonia were contributing causes in another 1,500 deaths in the state.

The CDC and every reputable medical organization urge Americans to get flu shots. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to provide full protection.

But the science is far from perfect. Every year, medical experts analyze what influenza viruses will be a threat and then direct manufacturers to produce vaccines to protect against those viruses.

Last year’s vaccines, according to a piece in the Washington Post, were less effective than doctors had hoped. Even so, the vaccine still helped, Daniel Jernigan, the CDC’s influenza division chief, told the Post.

Even less-effective vaccines provide some protection. For most people, they lessen symptoms and reduce the need for hospitalization.

For older recipients, recent studies indicate getting a flu shot helps ward off heart attacks – as much so as taking blood pressure prescriptions or stopping smoking.

It’s somewhat like using your seat belt or strapping a child into a safety seat. It doesn’t guarantee you won’t be injured in an accident, but it improves your odds of surviving alive and healthy.

Given that more than twice as many people died from the flu than from car accidents last year, it makes sense to improve your odds.

As with most infectious diseases, those who are around other people – family, classmates, patients, coworkers, children in daycare – are most a risk of getting sick and of making others sick. Flu shots help protect not only you, but those around you.

It’s not difficult to imagine what could happen if Americans and the world stopped efforts to protect themselves individually and the public at large.

It was 100 years ago that the infamous 1918 influenza pandemic spread death and terror around the world.

Many experts believe it started in Haskell County, Kansas, and then spread as western Kansas soldiers reported to Army camps during World War I. It was then carried to Europe by U.S. soldiers sent abroad.

The battle against the 1918 pandemic was hindered by medicine’s uncertain and incomplete knowledge of viruses.

And it was hindered by President Woodrow Wilson, who used censorship and sedition laws to suppress news about the deadly disease. Wilson had pushed for the laws to silence critics of his administration and its plans to enter World War I. But as John M. Barry writes in “The Great Influenza,” the laws also were used to keep information about the flu from scaring the public.

Wilson’s suppression was intended to lift the morale of people, and critics of the president were often prosecuted and jailed.

So rather than being informed about the disease and measures that could provide protection, Americans were kept ignorant, and even urged to engage in activities (such as parades and war bond rallies) that increased their risk.

The CDC says the flu pandemic killed at least 50 million people worldwide, including about 675,000 in the United States.

Medical authorities say it’s possible that another deadly pandemic could develop if an especially deadly and infectious virus takes hold.

But what’s much more likely is that we will be hit by a flu bug known to us, one we could guard against with a short, albeit painful, jab.

A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.