By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Doctors are bracing for a potentially harsh flu season this winter.

Nationwide, they’ve confirmed more than 7,000 cases, which is double the number this time last year. That includes more than 230 infections in Minnesota.

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And the flu is already widespread in other states. Now there is a report that the vaccine may be only 10 percent effective. That report focused only on one strain of influenza found in Australia.

It found the shot was effective 10 percent of the time, but the Centers for Disease Control says it’s too early to tell how well our vaccine will work against the flu bug in the United States this season.

“I always say sudden onset, flu is going to make you feel like you were hit by a bus,” said nurse practitioner Katie Brula.

Brula works for Virtuwell, an online clinic by Health Partners. She says lots of people are logging on and asking for help in diagnosing their condition and many are being told they have the flu.

“For the most part it’s going to be respiratory stuff with that fever, aches, headaches and just that real general ‘I feel awful’ fatigue,” Brula said.

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News that the flu vaccine is only 10 percent effective is misleading. A report out of Australia focused on one strain of the virus in that country. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the flu shot gives you the best chance to avoid catching influenza.

“So far the strains we’ve seen seem to be very similar to the vaccine, so that’s good news and, again, we are really early in the season activity is just starting to pick up,” said Jennifer Heath.

Last season, vaccine effectiveness against all flu viruses was nearly 40 percent. Studies show that number can go as high as 60 percent when the shot’s a better match.

“The vaccine isn’t perfect but it does protect a lot of people the vaccine is especially important if you are in a risk group for influenza,” Heath said.

Experts say people with compromised immune systems, the very young, the very old, pregnant women and emphysema sufferers should get the flu shot every year.

The vaccine plus proper hygiene, like hand-washing and covering your cough, are your best bet for staying healthy.

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Click here to find where you can get your flu shot.

Reg Chapman