FORT LEE, Va. (Nov. 30, 2017) -- Flu or Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. It can cause mild to severe health issues. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people including older adults, young children and those with certain health conditions are at higher risk of serious complications.

According to the National Institutes of Health, people who have the flu may feel some or all of the symptoms -- fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, or fatigue.

It is important to note that not everyone with the flu will have a fever. Some may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

How does the flu spread? Most experts believe these viruses are mainly passed along by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of others who are nearby. Less often, a person may get the illness by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their mouth, eyes or nose.

Certain individuals are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes in this group older people, pregnant women, young children and individuals with certain health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

It is important to note not everyone should take the flu vaccine. It is not approved for children younger than 6 months of age. People who have had a severe allergic reaction to influenza should generally not be vaccinated. There are some who should not get the vaccine without first consulting a physician. Those experiencing moderate to severe illness with or without a fever should wait until they recover to get vaccinated. People with a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness) that occurred after receiving a flu shot and who are not at risk for severe illness from influenza should generally not be vaccinated.

According to the CDC, yearly vaccination should begin as soon as the shots are available, ideally by the end of October when the earliest seasonal outbreaks have been known to occur. Usually influenza activity peaks from December - February. Significant outbreaks can continue into May, so vaccination later in the season can still be beneficial.

It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body. This is what protects people against influenza virus infection. It is best to get vaccinated so individuals are protected before the influenza begins spreading in our community.

Only injectable influenza vaccines are recommended for use this season. Live attenuated influenza vaccine (nasal spray) is discouraged because of concerns about the effectiveness against the H1-N1 viruses, according to the CDC.

Recommended influenza vaccines for 2017-2018 include a number of inactivated injectable formulas as well as recombinant influenza vaccines. Both trivalent and quadrivalent injectable vaccines are available. There is no preferential recommendation for one flu vaccine product over another by the CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Do not delay vaccination if quadrivalent vaccine is not available. Both types offer important protection.

Trivalent vaccines are designed to protect against three different influenza viruses where quadrivalent immunizations protect against the same three viruses plus an additional B virus from a different lineage of influenza B viruses. The composition of the season's vaccines has been updated to better match recently circulating influenza viruses.

In most healthy people, the flu will go away in five-seven days, but can last as long as 10 days. The worst symptoms usually last three-four days. Home treatment to ease the symptoms and prevent complications is usually all that is needed. In the meantime, the following are some steps to feel better:

• Get extra bed rest. Even if you're not sleeping a reduction in activity will help you feel better. It also reduces the spread of the virus to others.

• Drink plenty of fluids to replace those lost from fever. Fluids also ease a scratchy throat and help keep nasal mucus thin. Water, soup, fruit juice and hot tea with lemon are all good choices.

• If a fever is uncomfortable, sponge the body with lukewarm water. Do not use cold baths, ice or rubbing alcohol. Lowering the fever will not make symptoms go away faster but it may make people more comfortable. People also may take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to lower fever and help with body aches. Follow all instructions on the label. If giving medicine to children, follow a pediatrician's advice regarding dosage. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal disease of the brain and liver.

Antiviral drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza can lessen symptoms and shorten the time people are sick by one or two days. They also can prevent serious flu complications like pneumonia. Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within 48 hours of getting sick.

Antivirals are usually prescribed for five days, although people hospitalized with the flu may need the medicine longer. Some influenza viruses develop resistance to the anti-viral medicines, limiting the effectiveness of the treatment. The World Health Organization monitors antiviral susceptibility among circulating influenza viruses to provide timely guidance for antiviral use in clinical management.

Antibiotics are not useful for treating viral illnesses such as influenza. Antibiotics should only be used if there is a bacterial complication of the flu such as bacterial pneumonia, ear infection or sinusitis. Antibiotics can cause side effects and lead to development of antibiotic resistance.

There are wide variety of herbal, homeopathic and other complementary and alternative treatments that are marketed for influenza. Unfortunately, there have been few well-designed studies to evaluate their efficacy and safety.

The 2017--2018 influenza season is here. Take care of yourself and your community by getting vaccinated if you have not already done so.