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.
"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.