Flu season is winding down, including in Georgia, but federal health officials are cautioning the public to be wary of a new influenza strain that’s potentially more severe for children. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its weekly release that while reports of the H3N2 virus — an influenza A strain that has been this season’s dominant strain and is more vaccine-resistant — declined in recent weeks, the B strain has ramped up.
During the week of March 17, the most recent week where data is available, the B strain, which is generally more severe for young children, was reported more frequently than the A strain.
In Georgia the A strains is still more prevalent, with state health officials saying 43 tests for influenza A were confirmed that week compared with 19 tests for the B strain. The Georgia Department of health said there was moderate flu activity across the state, with 3.5 percent of outpatient visits to medical offices for the flu, which is above the regional baseline of 1.9 percent.
Fourteen Georgians were hospitalized last week for the flu; there have been 2,723 hospitalizations due to
influenza so far this season. As of March 17, there have been 137 confirmed flu deaths in the state this season, four of which were children.
“We know that illness associated with influenza B can be just as severe as illness associated with influenza A,” Kristen Nordlund told CNN. “We also know that influenza B tends to be more severe for younger children.”
There were five more flu-related pediatric deaths reported across the country during the week of March 17, the CDC reported, bringing the season’s total to 133. Two of those were linked to the B strain.
Hospitals remain crowded with flu patients too. The CDC estimates there was a rate of nearly 94 flu-related hospitalizations per 100,000 people.
It is also possible that those who got one strain could still contract the other later in the season, which typically lingers through March and into late May.
The CDC suggests those who haven’t already gotten a flu shot to go get one.
“Get vaccinated if you haven’t yet,” the agency says on its website. “There are still weeks of flu activity to come.”
The influenza B viruses usually respond better to vaccines than the A strains. The CDC estimates this year’s flu shot was 42 percent effective against the B strain and just 25 percent effective against the A strain.
Click here to find a flu shot in your area.
Here are some tips to avoid the flu and curb it from spreading, according to the CDC:
Stay home if you’re sick. With the exception of seeking medical care, do not go out until 24 hours after your fever has subsided without the use of medication. Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. Clean and disinfect surfaces that may have become contaminated with germs. Avoid others who are sick. Cough or sneeze into a tissue. Throw away tissues after use.
To treat the flu, use over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or cough syrup to relieve symptoms. Rest in bed and drink lots of fluids.
If you contact your doctor within 48 hours of onset of symptoms, you may be able to take an antiviral drug, which will reduce the severity of symptoms and length of the illness.
You can be contagious from one day before and up to seven days after becoming sick.
Patch reporters Dan Hampton and Beth Dalbey contributed to this report.
Image via Shutterstock