The 2013-14 influenza season is getting under way, and everyone age 6 months and older should get vaccinated against the flu now.

Flu is so highly contagious that it leads to thousands of hospitalizations each year and can even cause death. This year, however, there are even more options to consider when you go for your flu vaccination.

While there are many different flu viruses, a flu vaccine protects against the three or four viruses that research suggests will be most common. For the first time, individuals may choose a flu vaccine that guards against four strains of flu rather than the usual three.

Flu vaccines have been trivalent, or designed to protect against three different flu viruses — two A viruses and one B virus. Experts have had to choose between two very different B viruses for that year’s flu vaccine, even though both B viruses spread in most seasons. This meant the vaccine did not help to protect against the second group of B viruses that was not included in the vaccine.

By adding another B virus to the vaccine, flu vaccines may provide broader protection. Called quadrivalent vaccines, these brands are designed to protect against four different flu viruses — two influenza A and two influenza B. These four-in-one vaccines are so new that they'll make up only a fraction of the nation's supply of flu vaccine, so if you want a dose, you better start looking early.

There is no longer the one size fits all approach to flu vaccination. Individuals need to consider the best possible vaccine for their age and health.

For those with a needle phobia, you may be eligible for the flu mist or the intradermal flu vaccine. The flu mist is available for those that are 2 to 49 years of age, while the intradermal vaccine is for those 18 to 64 years of age.

For those 65 and older, there is also an injectable high dose vaccine available. This vaccine contains a higher dose of antigen which is supposed to give older people a better immune response, and therefore, better protection against flu.

The injection, intradermal vaccine, and the nose spray are all effective and there is no recommendation for one over the other. Just get vaccinated.

The flu is a contagious respiratory disease that is caused by the influenza virus, which can be spread by coughing, sneezing or nasal secretions. While anyone can get the flu, infection rates are highest among children. The symptoms, which for most people last only a few days, include fever/chills, cough, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, and runny or stuffy nose.

People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and those 65 years and older.

Getting a flu vaccine each year is the best way to prevent the flu. By getting a flu shot, you not only protect yourself, you avoid spreading the illness to others who for medical reasons cannot get vaccinated.

Other ways to stop the spread of germs include good hand washing, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, avoiding close contact with sick people.

If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges you to stay at home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.

Protect yourself and those you love.

For more information call the Health Department at 816-325-7185.

Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.