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This Flu Season Is Hitting Children Hardest

CDC | Robert Denty

This flu season has turned out to be a tough one for children. There have been twice as many pediatric flu deaths so far this season than at the same time last year. Eight of those have been in Texas.  

According to Dr. Jason Bowling, an associate professor of infectious diseases at UT Health San Antonio, that’s because the predominant strain of influenza circulating right now is Influenza B. 

“That tends to be more problematic for children, especially small children less than two years of age, than adults,” he said.

Add to that, this season’s vaccine is only about a 58% match for this year’s circulating strain of Influenza B, according to Bowling. He said that’s a smaller match than doctors like to see.

Because this strain of the flu tends to make small children sicker than other strains, Bowling said if a parent suspects their child might have the flu, or if they’ve been exposed to someone who tests positive for flu, they should immediately take the child to the doctor who will prescribe an antiviral like Tamiflu.

"The earlier you start it from symptom onset, the better the results you'll get from that antiviral,” Bowling said, adding that the benefits of antiviral medication go beyond shortening the course of the illness. He said people who take antiviral medication are less likely to be hospitalized with the flu, and children who take it are less likely to die. 

Flu season typically lasts until mid-March. With two months remaining, Bowling urged anyone who still has not gotten a flu vaccine to get one, even if the match isn’t great.

“Even though, obviously, we’d like to see a better match it’s still the best tool that we have available for preventing infection,” he said. “And even in people who get sick, it does tend to blunt the severity of illness.”

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie.

Copyright 2020 Texas Public Radio

Bonnie Petrie is a proud new member of the news team at WUWM. She is a reporter who - over her twenty year career - has been honored by both the Texas an New York Associated Press Broadcasters, as well as the Radio, Television and Digital News Association, for her reporting, anchoring, special series production and use of sound.
Bonnie Petrie
Bonnie Petrie covers bioscience and medicine for Texas Public Radio.