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"B" for "bad." (B-Yamagata flu strain)

This year's flu season may mark the U.S. emergence of B-Yamagata, a flu strain that appeared last year in Asia, but that prediction is tentative. The Southern Hemisphere, which has already undergone its flu season, saw a mixture of flu viruses this year, but, because flu strains tend to appear in A and B cycles, "We think influenza B is most likely to be the main player in this year's flu season," says Dr. Paul Glezen of the national Influenza Research Center in Houston.

This year's flu vaccine covers B-Yamagata, as well as other strains, including A-Taiwan and A-Shanghai. High-risk persons include those age 65 or older, persons with heart and lung disease (including asthma and chronic bronchitis), diabetics, chronic kidney disease patients, children aged 6 months to 18 years on long-term aspirin therapy, and those with chronic anemia (including sickle cell anemia). Persons likely to come in contact with such individuals, such as family members and health care professionals, should be vaccinated as well.

Flu cases usually begin appearing around early- to mid-December and peak in January or February. Getting a flu shot as late as February is beneficial, although from September onward is the preferred time. For persons exposed to flu who failed to get a shot or are allergic to the vaccine, the drug amantadine and a new one, rimantadine, can provide protection against the disease, or reduce its severity if it has already struck. Rimantadine, which may have received FDA approval by the time you read this, is as effective as amantadine, with significantly fewer side effects.

Left untreated, influenza can lead to pneumonia; experts estimate that it kills more than 40,000 Americans each year. Influenza usually strikes suddenly; symptoms include fever, generalized muscle pain, weakness, and a dry, hacking cough. Flu victims should get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. Aspirin is generally the best pain reliever, although there is the risk of Reye's syndrome for those age 21 or younger who take aspirin. Consult your physician.
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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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