Why the US could experience its deadliest flu season in 2019

Flu season is officially here, and that means you should be prepared for the sneezing, sore throat, exhaustion and aches and pains that come with it, especially this year.

The New York Times reported on Oct. 4 that looking at Australia, which doctors often do to predict the severity of the U.S. flew season, this year could be one of the worst yet. In 2017, Australia experienced its most severe flu season, and six months later, when winter rolled around in North America, so did the U.S., with approximately 79,000 dead. This year, Australia was hit even harder.

However, the predictions aren't totally reliable, as the correlation between continents can change at any point because the virus can mutate as it moves from country to country.

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Flu season in the United States
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Flu season in the United States
Emergency room nurse Kathy Nguyen wears a mask as deals with flu patients at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Emergency room nurse Christine Bauer treats Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, for the flu as his girlfriend Mayra Mora looks on in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Emergency room nurse Christine Bauer treats Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, for the flu in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Doug Hasselo, 87 of Carlsbad, California, is treated for the flu by float nurse Nellie Reyes in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, gets an IV from emergency room nurse Christine Bauer at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Emergency room nurse Richard Horner wears a mask as he deals with flu patients at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A doctor hold a syringe as part of the start of the seasonal influenza vaccination campaign in Nice, France October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
Boxes of vaccines against the flu are seen as part of the start of the seasonal influenza vaccination campaign in Nice, France October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
PORTLAND, ME - DECEMBER 29: Troy Ali, 21 of Portland receives a flu shot from Greater Portland Health medical assistant Anissa Millette at the clinic in Franklin Towers on Cumberland Ave on Friday, December 29, 2017. (Staff Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22: Vials of the Fluvirin influenza vaccine are displayed at a Walgreens phramacy on January 22, 2018 in San Francisco, California. A strong strain of H3N2 influenza has claimed the lives of 74 Californians under the age of 65 since the flu season began in October of last year. People are being encouraged to get flu shots even through the vaccine has been only 30% effective in combating the influenza. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22: A sign advertising flu shots is displayed at a Walgreens phramacy on January 22, 2018 in San Francisco, California. A strong strain of H3N2 influenza has claimed the lives of 74 Californians under the age of 65 since the flu season began in October of last year. People are being encouraged to get flu shots even through the vaccine has been only 30% effective in combating the influenza. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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"It's too early to tell for sure, because sometimes Australia is predictive and sometimes it's not," Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan, director of the influenza division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Times. "But the best move is to get the vaccine right now."

According to Dr. Marc Siegel, professor of medicine at NYU Langone, who wrote an op-ed for The Hill, you cannot get sick from getting a flu shot. However, you may still catch the flu, even with a vaccine, because the virus has the ability to change after (or even before) the vaccine is administered.

"The flu is a rapidly mutating virus because it is made up of a single strand of genetic material known as RNA (ribonucleic acid), which is not capable of repairing itself, so that the mutations are copied. This is why there are so many strains or subtypes of flu out in the community, and why we are not perfectly defended against this virus even when we take flu vaccine," he wrote.

Nonetheless, getting the flu vaccine can help protect you from some strains, rather than none. It can also help decrease the severity of the flu if caught, Siegel said.

According to the CDC, unlike the common cold, the flu usually comes on suddenly with symptoms including a fever or chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue and sometimes gastrointestinal issues. And while anyone can catch the flu, those most susceptible to serious flu complications include children under 5 years old, pregnant women, adults over 65 years old and those with chronic illness (like asthma or diabetes).

You can learn more about the difference between a cold and the flu, as well as serious symptoms to watch out for, from the CDC here.

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