SHERIDAN — October marks the official beginning of flu season, according to local and state health officials, and those officials said increases in flu cases corresponded with a drop in flu vaccinations given in the community, Sheridan Memorial Hospital employee health nurse Sue Goodell said.

She said while it’s difficult to pinpoint why that is, misunderstandings regarding the safety of the vaccine may have played a role.

“Sometimes people are afraid what is in the vaccine — people are concerned about the preservatives or other things the vaccine is made with,” Goodell said. “But what a lot of people don’t know is that there are a lot of different varieties of flu vaccines.”

The vaccination SMH is using this year does not contain preservatives, antibiotics, latex or eggs, ensuring it is safe for patients who have allergies or have experienced negative reactions to any of those substances.

Because flu viruses evolve year-to-year, Goodell said its important patients receive the latest vaccination every year.

While the virus itself doesn’t pose a grave health risk, complications resulting from the virus can lead to much more severe ailments, like pneumonia The virus is particularly dangerous to people with chronic medical conditions, weakened immune systems, smokers, people with respiratory issues, elderly people and very young children, as those populations are most likely to suffer serious flu-related complications.

The national Center for Disease Control recommends everyone six months or older get a flu vaccination.

Flu vaccinations are not 100% effective, though, and Goodell said people should take additional preventative steps to protect themselves and their loved ones from the virus.

“It’s important to use good hand washing this time of year,” Goodell said.

Flu symptoms typically come on suddenly and need to be treated quickly. Anti-viral medications can help reduce the symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness, but Goodell said those treatments can only be administered in the first 48 hours after symptoms emerge.

People who develop chills or high fevers, body aches and a cough should consult with a physician immediately, according to the WDH.

Flu vaccines are widely available through doctors, pharmacies and organizations like Sheridan Public Health. The “news releases” section of Sheridan County’s website contains a schedule of the locations, dates and times flu clinics will be offered throughout the community.