Just when you thought it was safe to head out in public again, news of another strain of the flu popping up might be enough to keep you quarantined. But how bad is it really going to be? Before you start boarding up your windows, get the facts on influenza B's resurgence at the end of an already devastating flu season.
Flu B is on the rise
First, the good news: According to a recent CDC report, overall cases of the flu have gone down, including the deadly influenza A (H3) viruses, of which the H3N2 strain was the worst culprit. But although flu A is receding, influenza B, its slightly less nasty cousin, is rising. Although B had also been around with A during the fall and winter, now nearly 58 percent of recent flu cases are B strains.
So is this a second wave to worry about? According to Flor Munoz, M.D., an infectious disease expert and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, flu B tends to come on the heels of flu A's decline. "This is just the typical pattern of circulation of influenza B—I don't think we know why this is," Dr. Munoz, an associate professor of Pediatrics-Infectious Diseases, Molecular Virology and Microbiology, Baylor College of Medicine, and a Transplant Infectious Diseases specialist at Texas Children's Hospital, tells Parents.com. "Influenza B activity can continue into the spring. I am not aware of concerns for this season being a worse B season than usual."
That's a relief! But, parents still need to remain vigilant because of flu B sticking around, Dr. Munoz says. In addition, the CDC's report lists 17 states as still having widespread flu. Although B doesn't usually present with as severe symptoms as A, it can still be serious, especially for young children.
Plus, if you or your child has already been sick with flu A, that doesn't mean you can't get B. "Protection or immunity is strain specific," says Dr. Munoz. "So if you get influenza A you get protected from getting infected with that strain, but not from getting the B strains."
It's not too late to get the flu vaccine
This is also the reason it's not too late to get your child a flu vaccine if they haven't had one—and even if they've already been sick with the flu. "Go ahead and have your child vaccinated—children less than five years old are at risk for flu because of their young age, and they have many opportunities to get exposed and infected, particularly if they have older siblings, go to daycare or school, or have large families and out of the home activities," Dr. Munoz says. According to the CDC, the flu vaccine is more effective against influenza B than A (H3N2), which is another reason to get the shot now.
We aren't out of the woods yet, so keep practicing good flu prevention including proper hand washing, especially as children head outside to common spaces like playgrounds in the spring. In addition, keep a watchful eye for any unusual symptoms. "Young children get fever with or without respiratory symptoms, and they can also get diarrhea and vomiting," Dr. Munoz says. "So watch for dehydration if your child is not eating or drinking well, in addition to any difficulty breathing."
If your child does get sick, "remember there is treatment available for the flu," Dr. Munoz says. "So if you are concerned that your child might have the flu, take him or her to the pediatrician as soon as possible so they can be treated early and prevent complications."