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Beware The B Strain Late-Season Flu Blues

Secondary Strains Fueling Influenza’s Dangerous Late-Season Resurgence

By Clete Campbell

Of course, in this miserable 2017-18 flu season, influenza has a Plan B.

After attacking Americans without remorse for months with a sickly, too often deadly assault of A Strains viruses, the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls report that B strains of influenza are fueling influenza’s resurgence during the dog days of the cold and flu season. The result is a dangerous second wave of what the CDC has called the worst U.S. flu season in a decade.

The CDC’s news on influenza’s late-season rally is worrisome on three fronts: 1) reports of B Strain cases are topping those of A Strains; 2) the B strain is targeting children with greater severity than the A Virus; and 3) people who’ve already fallen to the A strain this season are at risk for coming down with the B Strain.

For the week ending March 17, nearly 60 percent (58) of laboratory-confirmed flu cases were caused by B strain viruses, according to CDC reports. The news gets even worse: Contrary to popular opinion, B strain viruses can be as strong as dominant A strain influenza like H3N2, this season’s most prevalent and sickliest strain.

“We know that illnesses associated with influenza B can be just as severe as illness associated with influenza A,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said. “We also know that influenza B tends to be more severe for younger children.”

B strains’ late-season prevalence has prompted the CDC to warn parents to be especially vigilant during the season’s final days. It’s never too late in the season to get a flu shot, and now is not the time to lag in our daily personal hand hygiene practices. Cover your cough, wash your hands regularly and use hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t readily available. After all, CDC statistics show more than 130 children have died nationwide this season from the flu.

In Iowa alone, the Iowa Public Health Department reports influenza-related deaths are triple last year’s numbers. Sadly, close to 200 Iowans have passed away from the flu this season. Thankfully, no flu-related child deaths have been reported in the Hawkeye State as of March 26.

In Dubuque, Maureen Barry thought she was just dehydrated when she checked herself into Unity Point Finley Hospital as a precaution last week. Maureen was stunned when doctors told her she had influenza B. The virus kept her hospitalized for three days and will likely keep her home from her job at Medline Industries for at least three weeks.

“I had no idea it was the flu,” Barry said.

The scariest statistic of influenza B strains’ late-season rally: We don’t yet know the extent of its strength.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know what the influenza B wave will look like,” Nordlund said.

For this miserable cold and flu season, no one is safe from influenza, no matter how late in the season we may be.

“You have to respect the virus this year,” Dr. Sandy Gibney, an ER physician at St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, Del., told USA Today. “It’s no joke.”