CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The earlier, the better—that’s the message this year for flu vaccines. As the country prepares for another flu season, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee encourages all Tennesseans to act now and get their annual flu shot.

“Don’t wait,” said Dr. Inga Himelright, regional medical director and infectious disease specialist for BlueCross. “The vaccine takes at least two weeks to become effective, and the body needs time to develop antibodies to protect it. So, now is the time to act. If you put off your vaccination until all your coworkers or family members begin to cough and ache, then you’ll be at higher risk for getting sick.”

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are reminding everyone about the dangers posed by seasonal flu complications, which on average affect between 5 and 20 percent of the U.S. population. Of that percentage, approximately 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths occur annually. To combat these figures and avoid previous unanticipated flu shot shortages, the CDC and vaccine manufacturers are preparing more than 100 million doses for the 2006-2007 flu season.

“From October to March, we anticipate the inevitable flu outbreak, and we advocate early vaccinations so individuals, especially children and the elderly, don’t take their chances with this serious disease,” Himelright noted.

According to the CDC, high risk groups include children aged 6 to 59 months, people aged 50 and older, pregnant women, anyone suffering with a chronic medical condition, persons who live with or care for high-risk individuals, and health care workers.

Although BlueCross promotes vaccination as the best prevention measure for the flu, there are additional simple steps Tennesseans can take to help protect themselves and others.

Tips to Prevent the Flu

· Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and keep your distance from others when you are sick.

· Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

· Protect yourself from germs by washing your hands often.

· Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth to prevent germs from spreading.

· If possible, stay home from work, school, and public places when you are sick.

To obtain a flu shot, Tennesseans can contact their regular health care provider or health care facility. For additional information on the flu, visit BCBST.com/flu.

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.