For the last few weeks, the sign outside the local drugstore has informed us that flu shots are available. Roll up your sleeve, get poked, then walk around telling people they can sneeze on you: "It's OK! I'm good!"

It seems an early start to what the ads call "coldenflu season" -- the time of the year when the diseases are more easily spread, supposedly because we're all indoors now. Apparently in the summer we all work outside in fields. Then Labor Day comes, and we all say, "Well, time to go inside, cough on our hands, and operate door handles." That's how it works for colds, but of course flu is a seasonal thing. As we learned during the last full-planet freakout, the disease starts in the guts of pigs or birds, then someone in rural China gets exposed, sniffles, and three months later someone in Brainerd is shivering so hard his teeth sound like castanets. Unless he got a shot, of course.

Each year the shot is different, because each year we get a different strain. Last year's protection isn't completely effective against new strains, so basically, you have a lot of out-of-work antibodies who do nothing but hang around, rag on the new guys, and one-up each other. You call that a symptom? I had to deal with a bug that made people's lungs feel like footballs filled with Mrs. Butterworth's.

This year it's buy-one-get-two-free: The vaccine covers last-year's smash hit, H1N1, plus the strain they're picking for this year's winner, H3N2, and influenza B just in case. But I'd rather see a drugstore sign that says: "NO SHOTS YET. ALL VACCINE SENT TO RURAL CHINA FOR ONCE." It's probably the same guy who starts it every year. His wife tells him to wash his hands after cleaning the stalls, for goodness sake, you'll sicken hundreds of millions of people and lead to weeks of alarming news broadcasts!

Maybe we should just mail the guy a bottle of Purell. • 612-673-7858 More daily at