Your time is money, and getting sick can cost you a bundle — in time and in medical bills.

Influenza is one of the leading causes for Americans calling out of work — either because they are sick or they are caring for an ill family member. Flu season is most commonly defined as the period from October 1 through March 31, so, plan to get a flu shot before or as early as possible in the flu season to get the most from it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (search) does not yet know if there will be a shortage on flu vaccines, similar to last year. But it does recommend that until October 24, 2005, the following groups get priority for flu shots:

Adults age 65 or older

— Children age 6 months to 2 years

— Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

— Adults and children who have chronic heart or lung disease, chronic metabolic diseases, kidney diseases, blood disorders (such a sickle cell anemia), or weakened immune systems (such as those with HIV/AIDS).

— Pregnant women

— Children on chronic aspirin therapy

— People such as doctors, nurses and childcare providers, who work closely with high-risk populations

— Members of households where there is an infant too young to be vaccinated (6 months old or younger)

The CDC has asked that healthy people ages 2 to 64 refrain from getting flu shots until after Oct. 24. However, the CDC notes that vaccinations by the live, nasal-spray flu vaccine are always available to healthy persons aged 5-49 years who are not pregnant.

There are additional measures you can take to avoid getting or passing on the flu. Avoid contact with people who are already sick. Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough. Wash your hands several times a day — especially after you sneeze or cough — with warm water and soap. If you get the flu, stay home from work or school to avoid transmitting it to others.

To find a flu clinic or provider near you, talk to your regular vaccine provider to make sure that you fit into one or more at-risk categories. Your physician or your local health department may help you locate clinics that have flu vaccinations available.

You might also call the American Lung Association (search) at 1-800-LUNG-USA, or visit their Web site at , which lists known flu shot clinics by zip code.