THURSDAY, Oct. 10, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- If Australia was any indication, the flu season here will arrive early, so get your flu shot now, U.S. health officials said Thursday.
While the flu that circulated in the Southern Hemisphere in the past six months seemed severe, that was more the result of an early arrival of the season and better reporting of cases, said Dr. Scott Epperson, an epidemiologist in the influenza division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We want to remind people that before influenza starts to circulate around the U.S., now's a good time to get vaccinated and really start thinking about flu and get prepared for the upcoming season," said Epperson, lead author of the flu update published Oct. 11 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Luckily, this year's vaccine looks like it will offer protection against the H1N1 and H3N2 strains that are circulating, he added. These components have been updated from last year's vaccine to better match the strains being seen.
The vaccine also seems well-matched to the two influenza B strains that have been seen so far.
Still, flu seasons can be unpredictable, so it's best to prepare as if it could be a bad season. The best way to do that? Get a flu shot. The CDC recommends that everyone aged 6 months and older get vaccinated, and October is the perfect time to get your shot -- right before flu is expected to hit.
But the flu is around all year, Epperson explained. Over the summer, all of the different influenza viruses that are out there were circulating, so no one knows exactly which strain will predominate in the upcoming season, he said.
Regardless of the types of flu viruses in the mix, "this year's influenza vaccine is going to be the main pillar of how people can protect themselves," he said.
It's important for everyone to get vaccinated, Epperson said. This is particularly important for those at the highest risk for having complications from flu, including children under 5, adults aged 65 and older, pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease or asthma.
Getting your flu shot doesn't only protect you, he said. "One of the benefits of influenza vaccine is that you can help protect people around you -- and that's particularly important," Epperson said.
Since babies under the age of 6 months cannot be vaccinated, moms, dads and others who are around these infants should get vaccinated so the baby doesn't catch the flu, he said.
Epperson said that hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized for flu and thousands die from its complications every year. Those most likely to die are the very old and very young, but even young adults and middle-aged people die.
If you're vaccinated, you can significantly reduce the odds of being hospitalized for flu, he said. Even if you get the flu, having been vaccinated will make your illness milder.
If you come down with flu, you should see your doctor for a prescription for antiviral drugs, which can shorten the time you are sick, Epperson said.
Also, you can take simple steps to prevent catching or spreading the flu, Epperson said. "These include avoiding contact with people who might be sick, washing your hands frequently, covering your nose and mouth if you do get sick and if you're coughing or sneezing, that can help prevent the spread of flu to other people."
For more on flu, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.