Shopping, caroling, holiday parties, and travel bring large groups of people together in cramped places. They are also great places to share the gift no one wants — viruses and flu.

The flu season is already in full swing and is stronger than anytime in the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It should not to be taken lightly as one out of every five people in the United States is affected by the flu. In fact, an average of 200,000 people are hospitalized each year with flu complications, according to the CDC.

The flu virus can linger on surfaces for up to eight hours and is easily passed from one person to the next. Touching a contaminated surface and then putting your hands on your eyes, nose, or mouth will transport the germs straight into your body.

To ward off the flu:

1. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older. While there are many flu viruses, a flu vaccine protects against the viruses that research shows will be most common this year, including H1N1 and H3N2.

2. Wash hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. And cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

3. Wear a facemask to reduce the risk of getting sick, or from infecting the people around you if you are sick.