NEW YORK, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- The flu is back and with a vengeance, but the estimated 60 percent who haven't received a flu shot can still get one, a U.S. expert says.
Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical editor, said he has a healthy appreciation for the often underestimated and crippling powers of the flu and he takes every precaution.
"If you're young and healthy, the flu may just make you feel lousy for a week or two, miss some work, and spread the infection to some of your favorite people," Besser said. "If you're elderly, have medical problems, are pregnant, or are a young child, you may not be so lucky. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to influenza each year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said, and depending on the year, between 3,000 and 49,000 people die."
The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated, but less than half of all Americans -- 42 percent -- and even one-third of healthcare providers don't bother.
"You might have heard about a new study on flu vaccines. It found that the flu vaccine doesn't work as well as we thought or would like. However it still offers considerable protection. In adults ages 18-65 the benefits of the flu shot vary year by year, but on average the vaccine is 59 percent protective. For those younger than age 7 the nasal spray vaccine is 83 percent protective," Besser said. "There is also good news for kids -- the nasal spray vaccine works great and there is no needle.
"Unfortunately, the vaccine works least well in the elderly, those at greatest risk of severe infection. Clearly, we need better vaccines, but it's still a really good idea to get vaccinated," Besser wrote on ABCNews.com. For those without a health care provider, many retail pharmacies will still provide flu vaccines.
For those who do get the flu, Besser advised:
-- If you have underlying medical problems, call your doctor early in the illness to see if they want to prescribe an anti-viral drug.
-- Stay home until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours. That will cut down on the number of people to whom you might spread the flu.
-- Cover coughs and sneezes.
-- Keep your hands clean, use soap and water or hand sanitizer frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing.
-- Drink plenty of liquids.
-- Stay home if you're sick.