National and local health officials are urging early season flu shots to protect against a strain from the southern hemisphere.

Registered nurse with the Missoula City County Health Department, Pam Whitney, said the influenza A strain is called the H3N2 variant virus.

"We were notified that in the southern hemisphere, specifically around Australia, it has been a particularly bad year, and the strain thy were seeing was called H3N2," Whitney said. "Of the cases we've been seeing, we've already had 30 in Montana, and five in Missoula with some hospitalizations."

Whitney advised residents in Missoula not to wait, but to get their flu shots right away.

"Get your flu shots now, because we do see the strain and the activity that happens in the southern hemisphere," she said. "There's a term called 'cocooning', that I like to use. There are babies that are too young to get vaccinated, and there are elderly and others who are allergic to the flu shots, so it's so important for the rest of us who can get the flu vaccine to do so, and that way, we're protecting those who can't."

Whitney said the flu vaccine currently available will cover the H3N2, as well as other influenza strains, and there's an abundant supply of the vaccine at places like Costco, Wal Mart, Walgreen's and many other places, as well as your local healthcare provider. The Missoula City County Health Department also provides flu shots.

The flu vaccination is currently covered under the Affordable Care Act.

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