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Fall is here, which means pumpkins, falling leaves, and the flu! Getting your free flu shot is the best way to protect yourself and loved ones this season.

In The U.S., Flu Season Could Be Unusually Harsh This Year

Health officials are warning that the United States may have an unusually harsh flu season this year.

But they stress that flu seasons are notoriously difficult to predict, and it’s far too early to know for sure what may happen.

The concern stems from several factors, including signs that the season started a few weeks earlier than usual. “When you have an early start with regional outbreaks, that is generally not a good sign,” says Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Sometimes that’s the forerunner of a serious season.”

An early start could mean a longer season, which could mean more people end up getting infected with the flu.

Another reason for concern is that Australia had a severe flu season this year.  “We generally follow in our season what happened in the Southern Hemisphere, such as in Australia,” Fauci says. “And Australia had a particularly bad influenza season for a number of reasons.”

A major reason for Australia’s struggle is that the main strain of flu circulating there was one known as H3N2. That kind of flu virus tends to make people sicker than other strains, especially the elderly.

To make things worse, the flu vaccine appears to have been only about 10 percent effective against that strain in Australia. Part of the reason for that is that flu strains are constantly changing and the H3N2 strain used to make the vaccine mutated during production of the vaccine. This weakened the shot’s effectiveness.

“The mutation just happened to be in a very bad spot on the virus to make it essentially be a mismatch for the vaccine,” Fauci says.

The United States is using the same vaccine, and an H3N2 strain appears to be dominating outbreaks in this country so far too.

“It looks like not only are we using the same vaccine, but the virus that was circulating in Australia appears to be the same virus that we’re starting to see now in the outbreaks in the United States,” Fauci says.

Get your flu shot  and stay healthy!  Flu viruses change from year to year, so it’s important to get a shot each flu season. It’s free for people with Medicare, once per season when it’s given by doctors or other health care providers (like senior centers and pharmacies) that take Medicare. Learn more about the flu and find a vaccine location near you at Flu.gov.

It’s not too late to get your free flu shot today!

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