If you're home in bed, nursing an aching, feverish body, an announcement from the Utah Department of Health will be a bitter pill to swallow.

The influenza season hasn't hit Utah. But, it's just around the corner."Generally in Utah it starts after Dec. 15 and not later than March or April," said state epidemiologist Craig Nichols. "If influenza comes in and spreads rapidly through the Wasatch area, it likely won't last more than four to six weeks."

Nichols urges "high-risk" individuals with chronic heart or lung diseases to be vaccinated - if they can find influenza vaccine. Supplies are limited because most flu shots are given earlier in the fall.

That's not to say that most Utahns got them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the flu vaccine may represent the biggest potential boon to public health. Each year, only about 20 percent of those targeted as needing the vaccine get it.

Even in nursing homes where awareness should be high, only 55 percent to 60 percent of residents are vaccinated, according to a CDC report.

Given annually in the fall before the start of flu season, the vaccine prevents 90 percent or more of flu cases among healthy young adults, a CDC official said. Older people who have been vaccinated are reported to have milder cases of the flu than if they hadn't gotten the shot.

"It's best if the vaccine is given four weeks before outbreaks occur, but it can be given up until the time the disease is really widespread in the community," Nichols said.

Antiviral drugs are also now available.

"If the outbreak this year is a Type A Influenza there are prescription drugs used both to prevent infection and also to treat cases," the health official said. "The relatively new drugs have been used over the past couple of years with great success."

Nichols said the Bureau of Epidemiology will be monitoring influenza-like diseases in Utah. Following laboratory testing, officials will notify physicians of the type of virus present, enabling them to know if antibiotics will be effective.

Flu victims, Nichols said, will experience chills, fevers and muscle aches. Usually they will become so fatigued that they will immediately go right to bed.

"This is much different than the type of illness that we are seeing right now," he said. "A lot of people probably suppose that they already have influenza, but most people don't continue to work if they have the disease. It puts them right to bed."

Because pneumonia is a common complication of influenza, Nichols recommends that victims rest, take medications to relieve the fever and muscle aches and drink lots of fluids.

"If you suffer any severe problems with chest pain or breath, consult a physician," he said.