Flu season is near — and it could be a bad one

Flu season is just around the corner, and experts predict it could be a bad one.

In the Southern Hemisphere, which has an earlier season, the number of lab-confirmed influenza cases was more than double the previous year. In Australia, the virus hit early and sickened record numbers in some areas.

“They’re right to be worried about what happened in the Southern Hemisphere,” said Dr. Jason Bowling, an infectious disease specialist at UT Health San Antonio and Hospital Epidemiologist at University Health System. “We could be seeing a bad flu season here this year. We haven’t had one in a while.”

Dr. Bowling said the best protection is to get a flu shot. Even if you aren’t worried about yourself, or if you haven’t gotten sick from the flu, you can protect those at greatest risk of serious complications, including young children, the elderly and pregnant women.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released vaccination numbers from last year’s flu season. In Bexar County, only 35 percent of adults got vaccinated against flu, and 64 percent of kids. That compares to 43 percent of adults and 59 percent of children who got a flu shot nationwide last season.

Everyone 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated against the flu, according to federal recommendations. While the vaccine is 40 to 60 percent effective in any given year, that means those who are vaccinated are 40 to 60 percent less likely to get sick or die from flu-related complications.

Flu is the most worrisome of the respiratory illnesses that circulate in cooler months. Each year, the flu virus sickens millions of people, sends hundreds of thousands to the hospital, and kills tens of thousands.

Flu season usually begins in October and peaks in February.

To find a location in your neighborhood that offers the flu shot, the CDC’s flu page has a vaccine locator. By entering your ZIP code, you can get a list and map of clinics and pharmacies that have flu vaccine available.

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