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Here’s how to avoid getting sick as flu season peaks.

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Coronavirus may be making headlines, but if you live in the U.S., you should pay closer attention to the flu right now. Each year, millions of people get the flu, tens of thousands are hospitalized and thousands die from it. Flu activity is currently very high and this level is expected to continue for a few more weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Across the nation, some schools and businesses are temporarily closing due to high outbreaks of flu activity.

What’s especially unusual about the flu this year is that influenza B is the dominant strain for the first time in almost 30 years. Usually about 75% of flu illnesses are caused by influenza A. Although there aren’t big differences between the two, you’ll likely hear these terms being talked about in the news or at the doctor’s office.

What’ the difference between influenza A and B?

  • Symptoms for both types of flu are similar and include fever, chills, fatigue, sore throat, cough, congestion, runny nose, muscle/body aches and headache.
  • Both types of flu are extremely contagious. The virus can be spread up to six feet away when an infected person coughs or sneezes or by touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
  • Treatment is the same for both influenza A and influenza B and is focused on relieving symptoms. There is no cure for the flu.
  • Anti-viral medications, such as Tamiflu, may help shorten the length or severity of illness. They are most effective when taken within the first 48 hours of illness.
  • Influenza A is more common and is typically seen earlier in the flu season than influenza B. Spikes in type B flu activity are being seen at this time.
  • Both type A and B flu affect adults similarly. But in children under age 16, influenza B may lead to greater complications.
  • Flu vaccines protect against specific strains of both influenza A and influenza B virus. But since the vaccine is developed long before flu season begins, it only includes the 3 – 4 strains predicted to be most common and does not protect against all strains.

What can you do to protect yourself from the flu?

  • Get a flu shot. The vaccine doesn’t guarantee you won’t get sick, but it’s still the most effective way to protect yourself from the flu. If you do get sick, symptoms are usually milder. It’s not too late to get a flu shot if you haven’t done so this year.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Wash your hands often. If soap and water aren’t available, use antibacterial hand cleaner.
  • Keep your hands away from your mouth, nose and eyes.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
  • Keep your immune system strong by eating nutritious food, being physically active, getting enough sleep and managing stress.
  • Stay home when you are sick so you don’t spread the flu to others.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.

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Date Last Reviewed: February 10, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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