The flu vaccine is never a guarantee against the illness, and the vaccine is even less effective this year due to a mutated strain of influenza that's infecting more people than usual, but that doesn't mean you have to become a victim.

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The best offense is a good defense, and a few simple guidelines that many folks fail to follow can help you remain flu-free through the winter.

Dr. Jason Nehmad, primary care physician at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, said thorough hand washing, keeping your hands away from your face, and the use of disinfectant wipes and antibacterial gels make a big difference.

"That's the best way to prevent it because once you get it, then at that point it's just a matter of trying to tackle the duration of it," Nehmad said.

According to Nehmad, anyone presenting flu-like symptoms -- fever, headache, muscle pains -- should see a doctor and get treatment within 48 hours. Antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu, can chip away at the severity and length of the illness, as long as it's administered in the beginning stages.

A shift in the strain known as H3N2 has heightened the risk for flu this season, even among those who received a vaccination. Federal disease officials did not account for the mutation when preparing the latest vaccine.

Still, Nehmad said it's better to have been vaccinated.

"It decreases the severity of the virus," he said. "Instead of knocking someone out of work for 10 days, it'll get you back to work within three to four days."

Vaccinations are still available. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seasonal flu activity can continue to occur as late as May.