For much of New England December is prime time for colds, influenza and other respiratory illnesses. Learning how to protect yourself and your loved ones can help ensure a happy healthy winter season.The flu vaccine remains the best way to prevent and control influenza. The best time to get a flu vaccine is October and November. However, if you to wait until December, or even January, the flu vaccine can still protect against illness.Wash your hands frequently to greatly reduce the risk of contracting and spreading the common cold. Germs can be passed through coughing, sneezing and contact with contaminated surfaces.Eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep and exercise while avoiding close quarter crowds, helps the immune system keep the germs in check.What happens if you’re already sick? The most effective treatment for the common cold and the flu is supportive therapy, meaning the illness must just run its course. The best we can do is manage our symptoms, try not to make others sick, stay hydrated and rest.Be sure to see a healthcare provider if you are not getting better or if your symptoms worsen. Watch children for high fevers, abnormal behaviors such as sleepiness, loss of appetite, crying, wheezing, holding their stomach or pulling ears. Be aware of persistent coughs that disrupt normal sleep patterns, high fevers that will not go down, increased shortness of breath and facial pain caused by sinus pressure. These signs can indicate the beginning of a bacterial complication that could require antibiotics.If you still need your flu shot or you have cold and flu symptoms that you need help managing, please remember that ClearChoiceMD urgent care centers are open 12 hours a day, seven days a week with no appointments needed. We offer flu shots for those six months old and up, and are equipped to treat illnesses for all ages.Melody Bezio, author of this blog post, is a member of our team in St. Albans, VT.