What is the Aussie flu, and should the U.S. be worried?

The middle of winter usually means one thing: There’s a high risk of flu. And sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there might be another, more serious strain floating around this season, dubbed the Aussie (aka Australian) flu.

But what is the Aussie flu? And should those of us living in the United States be worried about it?

As you may have already guessed, the Aussie flu originated in Australia and has been tearing through the country in recent weeks. It’s a specific strain of the flu called H3N2 (there are many, many different strains, one of the reasons it’s hard to prevent). After giving Australia the worst flu season in nearly a decade, the strain was nicknamed the Aussie flu.

It’s easy to feel panicked about an illness that has a catchy name, but the truth is, H3N2 is not a new strain of the flu — it was around last year as well. It also isn’t particularly different from the regular flu. It has the same symptoms: congestion, fever, sore throat, nausea, difficulty sleeping, etc. And, as with most strains, children and the elderly are most at risk.

H3N2 is currently causing a lot of problems in the U.K., so should the U.S. be worried?

And the answer is: probably. Scientists typically look towards the Southern Hemisphere to help predict what type of flu season we’ll have in the north. Plus, Australia and the U.K. are just plane rides away.

But here’s the good news: According to USAToday.com, the H3N2 strain is covered in this year’s flu vaccine. It’s also been around since 2014, which means it isn’t a brand new strain and won’t take doctors and researchers by surprise. The bad news? H3N2 is good at adapting to vaccines, which means vaccines that should prevent it sometimes don’t.

The bottom line is this: The Aussie flu has been around for a while, and, currently, it isn’t posing a significantly larger threat than any other strain of the flu in the U.S.

That said, like any other strain of the flu, it should be taken very seriously. If you’re worried about contracting the Aussie flu, please remember to get your flu shot! Yes, the flu virus knows how to change and adapt against vaccines, but the flu shot is still your best chance at preventing the illness this season. You can practice extra caution by washing your hands regularly and getting enough sleep to keep your immune system strong.

Good luck out there!