Posted at: 12/11/2013 10:52 AM
By: Erika Edwards, NBC News
Photo: NBC News
(NBC News) -- 'Tis the season for fevers, severe body aches and fatigue.
They're all hallmarks of the flu, which sickens as much as 20 percent of the population every year.
According to a new survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, many people are not taking steps to prevent getting sick and don't know how to treat the flu if they do fall ill.
If there's one thing infectious disease experts want us to know right now, it's that vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu every year.
While they recommend it for everyone 6 months old and up, only 40 percent of adults get immunized every year.
Another finding: 45 percent of people thought the vaccine might give them the flu, but doctors say that's not true. They say when people get sick after getting the shot, it's likely the result of bad timing.
"Your antibodies build up about two weeks after the vaccine is given. So it's possible you could get exposed in the meantime, but right now we know that the flu activity level is pretty low," explained Dr. Susan Rehm of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Eighteen percent of survey respondents incorrectly thought the vaccine treats the flu.
Only prescription antivirals like Tamiflu and Relenza can treat the flu and it's best to take those medicines within the first 48 hours of symptoms.
It can be tempting to ignore flu symptoms during the busy holiday season, but etiquette experts remind us to spread cheer not germs.
Anna Post of the Emily Post Institute said, "It's not very considerate if you know that you are sick to go out to a holiday party and potentially be getting everybody else sick too. Much better to cancel and stay home, even if it's not as fun."
Doctors say even if you're just starting to feel sick, stay home, because you're actually contagious before symptoms begin.