U.S. health officials brace for potentially bad flu season

Flu shots at the state fair
Beverly Rogness, right, of the Minnesota Visiting Nurses Association gives a flu shot to Jack Nessen of Turtle Lake, Wis., in the KARE 11 Health Fair area at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 27, 2015.
Courtney Perry for MPR News 2015

It's flu shot time, and health officials are bracing for a potentially miserable fall and winter.

The clues: The Southern Hemisphere, especially Australia, was hit hard over the past few months with a flu strain that's notorious for causing severe illness, especially in seniors.

And in the U.S., small clusters of that so-called H3N2 flu already are popping up.

"We don't know what's going to happen but there's a chance we could have a season similar to Australia," Dr. Daniel Jernigan, influenza chief at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press.

The worrisome news came as the government urged Americans Thursday to make sure they get flu shots, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price got his own jab during a public event. Last year, fewer than half the population was vaccinated.

H3N2 is "the bad actor," said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "We all need as much protection as we can get, not only for ourselves but, we don't want to transmit this virus, we don't want to give it to people who are fragile and older and may indeed get very, very sick."

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