Although the flu season may be winding down, an uptick of another flu strain is setting the scene for a possible second wave of flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The strain of flu that has dominated this season, influenza A (H3N2), is on the decline, but cases of influenza B have increased, according to the CDC's weekly statement ending on March 11. The report notes that 58 percent of all laboratory-confirmed cases of flu were caused by the B strain.
Here are 6 things you need to know about this late-season rise in influenza B.
1. It's not a total surprise. This second wave of influenza B cases is not unexpected. A late-season surge of influenza B often takes place when H3N2 is dominant in the beginning of a season.
2. Influenza B is less associated with severe illness but CDC says don’t take this strain lightly.
H3N2 is associated with more severe illness, complications, hospitalizations and deaths, especially among children, people older than 65 and those with chronic conditions. But CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund urged vigilance."We know that illness associated with influenza B can be just as severe as illness associated with influenza A," Nordlund told CNN. "We also know that influenza B tends to be more severe for younger children."
3. There’s been an uptick of influenza B in Georgia, but overall numbers continue to fall.
As of the week ending March 17, the Georgia Department of Public Health said 3.5 percent of patient visits to doctors were for the flu, down from 3.7 percent of patient visits the week before. A month ago, 11.9 percent of patient visits to doctors were for the flu. In Georgia, influenza A cases continue to represent a larger portion of laboratory-confirmed cases of flu: 8.9 percent for influenza A, and 3.9 percent for influenza B.
4. Believe it or not, it’s still not too late to get a shot if you haven’t.
The CDC recommends vaccination “as long as flu viruses are circulating” and the season can run as late as May. In Georgia, there is “moderate” intensity of influenza, according to the most recent report. Influenza B viruses tend to respond better to vaccines than influenza A viruses. This season’s vaccine is believed to be about 36 percent effective overall, with lower effectiveness against the H3N2 strain, according to a mid-season estimate by the CDC. But even partial protection can help reduce the severity of illness.
5. Don't let your guard down. Continue to take steps to protect you and your family from catching and spreading the flu. Wash your hands - before and after eating, after using the restroom, after coming home from work and school, after touching your mouth or nose. Hand-hygiene is one of the simplest and most effective ways to stop the spread of germs.
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