KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
We're going to get some answers now about this year's flu season. You might have heard or read that this year's flu shot might not be very effective. And that may be true, but experts say you should still get it. There are also warnings that this flu season could be pretty nasty. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has the details.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: There are a bunch of reasons flu watchers are worried.
ANTHONY FAUCI: The first thing is we have an early start to the season.
STEIN: That's Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health.
FAUCI: When you have an early start, that is generally not a good sign. Sometimes that's the forerunner of a serious season.
STEIN: Because the flu bugs may have a lot more time to get a lot more people sick. The next reason is what happened during Australia's most recent flu season.
FAUCI: We generally follow in our season what happened in the Southern Hemisphere, such as in Australia. And Australia had a particularly bad influenza season for a number of reasons.
STEIN: A big one was the strain of flu that swept across Australia. It's called H3N2.
FAUCI: The H3N2 type is generally historically a more severe type of influenza.
STEIN: Especially for older people. And that's not all. The flu vaccine - well, the virus mutated when the vaccine was being brewed.
FAUCI: So the mutation just happened to be in a very bad spot on the virus to make it essentially be a mismatch for the vaccine.
STEIN: So it looks like the vaccine was kind of a dud against this nasty virus in Australia.
FAUCI: And 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.
STEIN: Now, you're probably thinking, OK, so why even bother getting vaccinated? Well, there are still lots of good reasons. Any protection's better than nothing. And Brendan Flannery of the CDC says there are a bunch of reasons to think the vaccine could end up working way better in the United States than it did in Australia.
BRENDAN FLANNERY: If we have a mixed influenza season with different viruses, the vaccine may actually provide better protection than the really bad news from Australia.
STEIN: And William Schaffner at Vanderbilt says getting vaccinated protects more than just yourself.
WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: I keep reminding people they need to get it not only to protect themselves but so that they don't spread it around to other people - their loved ones, folks at the gym and at work and at religious services - who are more vulnerable. Nobody wants to be a dreaded spreader.
STEIN: And everyone agrees the flu is notoriously unpredictable. It could just fizzle, or it could be nasty - no way to really know. So it's better to be safe than sorry. Rob Stein, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF RYUICHI SAKAMOTO'S "FOTOGRAFIA #2")
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