Fall is here. The leaves are turning and the apples are delicious, especially when covered in caramel, but as joyous as autumn is, it does have a downside — not winter lurking right around the corner but the beginning of flu season.

Germs can live on surfaces from doorknobs to money to items in grocery stores for hours or even days. If you think about all the things in your daily life that have been repeatedly touched by possibly infected people, hand washing is a must. And wash them well, long enough to sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice or use alcohol-based sanitizer. A quick rinse under running water won’t be as effective.

If you’re a face toucher, beware: If you touch something that was touched by an infected person, then you rub your eyes or nose, the virus on your fingers has just found an entryway into your whole body. But remember, too, that the flu virus is airborne, so if you happen to be in the path of a cough or sneeze by an infected person, you could get sick. Try to keep at least three feet of distance between you and someone who is sick.

Colds are uncomfortable and annoying but the flu can cause complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia quickly in seniors, which can be life threatening, and delaying treatment can make matters worse. Influenza can cause fever, chills, headache, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, muscle aches and extreme fatigue lasting several days to more than a week. If you are feeling sick, see your doctor.

One of the best ways to protect yourself is by getting a flu shot, and while not a 100 percent guarantee that you won’t contract the virus, it can reduce your symptoms should you get sick.

Call your health care provider or go to one of the numerous clinics being held in the area. Remember, even if you have a flu shot, you must keep those hands clean and away from your face as there’s no injection to prevent the common cold.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging.