Health professionals are reminding people to get prepared, as the peak of the winter sickness season looms.

Taranaki medical officer of health Doctor Jonathan Jarman says cases of influenza are expected to peak at the end of August.

He suggests people over 65, those with long-term health conditions, pregnant women, and under fives with respiratory conditions, get the free flu vaccine before they have to cough up for it from next month.

Dr Jarman also urges people to take care to avoid the viruses which are causing colds, bronchiolitis, and ear infections.

"Hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene will protect you against all of those respiratory bugs."

Those eligible for a free flu vaccine have less than a week to get the jab, before they have to pay for it themselves.

Dr Jarman says the vaccine takes about two weeks to kick in, so it is vital people get organised before the flu season really hits.

"We actually haven't seen the real start of the influenza season this year.

"Last year the influenza season peaked at the start of August."