Researchers suspect a rough flu season is on the horizon. Your best defense is a vaccination—and plenty of hand-washing. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

The good news: There’s still time to get your flu shot.

The bad news: It will be exactly that—a shot.

According to Daniel McGee, MD, a hospitalist with Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, the nasal mist is not available again this year.

“Data accumulated over the years has shown the nasal flu vaccine to be less and less effective,” Dr. McGee said. “It’s been eliminated from the marketplace and it’s not available anywhere.”

So everyone will have to roll up their sleeves for a little jab in the arm. This will be especially bad news for kids, many of whom prefer the nasal mist over the shot. According to reports, although FluMist comprised only 8 percent of the vaccine supply, it accounted for one-third of the vaccines given to children.

Dr. McGee urges everyone age 6 months and older to get a flu shot. The flu is a serious illness that can result in hospitalization and even death, particularly for the very young, the very old and for pregnant women.

So far it’s still early in flu season, but there’s an increasing number of cases being reported. Nobody knows for sure whether flu season will be particularly severe this year.

“Not yet, but time will tell,” he said. “It’s still early.”

Experts are predicting it could be bad, given that Australia just had its worst flu season ever. What happens in the southern hemisphere usually indicates what’s coming in the northern hemisphere. In Australia, some reports indicated that their vaccine proved effective just 10 percent of the time.

But Dr. McGee said that’s all just speculation and there have been too few cases in the United States to make any claims about how severe the flu season will be, or how effective the vaccine will be.

Everyone should get the flu shot anyway, he said.

“Last year, 105 children died from the flu, five in Michigan,” Dr. McGee said. “Seventy-five percent of the children nationwide that died weren’t fully vaccinated for influenza. Do the math.”

Flu symptoms include fever, coughing, headache, body aches and fatigue. Symptoms usually last five to seven days.

Dr. McGee urged people to call their doctor right away if they get the flu. A medication called Tamiflu can help treat it if a patient starts taking it within 72 hours of onset of symptoms. Even children can take Tamiflu.

“Tamiflu won’t get rid of it, just reduce its duration and effects,” Dr. McGee said.

The doctor’s other tips for people who get the flu:

  • Gargle with salt water for a sore throat. This may help relieve some pain and irritation. But don’t overdo it—one teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water is enough.
  • A spoonful of honey can help with a cough caused by irritation. But parents should not give honey to small children, as it may cause botulism.
  • Chicken soup can help as well. Chicken soup contains a small amount of prostaglandins that can help fight infections.

The best approach, of course, is to take steps to avoid the likelihood of getting the flu virus. Get to your doctor or pharmacy for a flu shot—and wash your hands often.

Plain, everyday soap works just fine, Dr. McGee said.