A rough flu season just wrapping up in Australia could mean a worse one in the United States, where flu season is just starting, The New York Times reports.
“It’s too early to tell for sure, because sometimes Australia is predictive and sometimes it’s not,” said Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “But the best move is to get the vaccine right now.”
In 2018-2019, the U.S. flu season ran from October through May, NBC News reported. As many as 43 million people caught the flu, and up to 61,000 died.
Here’s what you need to know.
What’s the flu season forecast?
Flu seasons in the Southern Hemisphere, where winter just ended, can sometimes help predict the oncoming U.S. flu season, NBC News reported.
In Australia, which counts flu deaths differently than the United States and has a much smaller population, 662 people have died of the flu, The New York Times reported.
Hospitalizations and nursing home outbreaks “were at moderate to high levels,” said Ian Barr, of a World Health Organization research center on influenza, according to the publication.
The flu season began two months early in Australia, NBC News reported, dominated by a particularly virulent strain dubbed H3N2.
Cases of the flu in the United States remain low, according to the latest update by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But a 4-year-old boy with underlying health issues has already died of flu-related illness in California, the Riverside University Health System reported.
“We should never forget that the flu still kills,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, a public health officer for Riverside County. “A death so early in the flu season suggests this year may be worse than usual.”
Who’s at most risk?
Children, older adults, pregnant women, anyone with a chronic health problem and healthcare workers are especially vulnerable to both the flu and potential complications, like pneumonia, WebMD says.
People with asthma, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and a compromised immune system due to cancer, HIV, or other conditions are among those also at risk, according to the site.
Do I need a flu vaccine?
Doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest getting a flu vaccination before the end of October.
“The concern with delaying it is that some people who might have the opportunity to get vaccinated now may not have that opportunity later,” said Dr. Robert Atmar, an infectious disease expert at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, NBC News reported.
“The most important thing is for people to get their flu vaccine, and get it before the epidemic starts,” he said, according to the network. Even if the vaccine doesn’t prevent the flu, it can reduce the severity if you do catch it.
Who should not get a flu vaccine?
Anyone who got Guillain-Barre syndrome within six months of a previous flu shot and anyone with a life-threatening allergy to vaccine ingredients should not get one, WebMD advises.
Pregnant women should avoid nasal spray flu vaccines, but should still get a flu vaccine shot, according to the site.
What else can I do to avoid the flu?
Avoid people who are ill and practice good hygiene, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests.
Also, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated by germs, the CDC suggests.
If you do fall ill, stay home and limit contact with other people to avoid spreading the flu.