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Beware: Australian outbreak hints at bad Ohio flu season

The flu season is just getting underway in Ohio, but if Australia’s experience with influenza is any guide, Ohioans should be prepared to feel aches and pains in the coming months.

Australia and other parts of the southern hemisphere, which has an earlier flu season than the U.S., saw record high rates of flu cases and hospitalizations.

“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.

RELATED: Dayton doctor says don’t play ‘viral roulette’ this flu season

But it’s still difficult predict how bad the upcoming flu season will be in Ohio.

Strains in the Southern Hemisphere often spread to North America and Europe, but there’s no guarantee.

“The one thing that’s predictable of flu is that it’s unpredictable,” said Sietske de Fijter, Ohio Department of Health epidemiologist.

This season, there have been 165 flu-related hospitalizations in Ohio as of last week.

“We can’t really say what this season will bring, but what we have seen so far is that we’re starting to see a lot of hospitalized influenza cases,” she said.

The start of flu season in Ohio changes each year and but last year cases started to spike in December and peaked in February, with a total 8,661 hospitalizations within the state for the flu season.

LOCAL: Flu kills three in Ohio in two weeks

But each year, the number can change, with Ohio flu season hospitalizations swinging over the past five years from around 3,500 to more than 9,300.

It takes about two weeks for the vaccines to be effective, so de Fijter said people should get their shots as soon as possible.

“If people are planning to get together for the holidays, now is the good time to get your vaccines so you’re as protected as possible,” she said.

People who get flu shots have a 40 percent to 60 percent lower chance of getting seriously ill than the unvaccinated.

And people who get the flu despite the vaccine generally are less sick than if they didn’t have the flu shot.

RELATED: 7 ways to prevent your child from getting the flu this season

Dan Suffoletto, spokesman for Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County, said everyone older than six months should get vaccinated, especially those at higher risk like the elderly, young children, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses.

Pharmacies, doctors offices and Public Health are among places where residents can get flu vaccines.

Dr. Bruce Binder with Wright State Physicians said it is not too late to get vaccinated against the flu. While seasonal flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, flu activity is usually highest between December and February.

“An annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others from the flu,” Binder said. “When you get a flu vaccination, you protect not only yourself, but also the people around you, including babies and young children, older people and people with chronic health conditions.”

Wright State Physicians has walk-in flu shot clinic at the 725 University Blvd. health center this week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

LOCAL: Here’s what CVS plan to buy Aetna means to you

Each year the flu leads to illness, hospitalizations, missed work or school days and even death.

The CDC has changed its recommendation for people with egg allergies, now saying that even people with severe reactions like hives can now get the vaccine, though should get it in a medical office setting and not at a pharmacy.

The FDA also approved a generic version of Tamiflu, with both versions for treating patients within 48 hours of when flu-like symptoms appear, like fevers, chills, coughing, muscle aches, congestion, headaches and fatigue.

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