It’s Important to Know Your A, B, Cs When It Comes to the Flu

Top three strains of influenza share symptoms, but vary in severity

Ravikumar HSTROY, Ohio (October 13, 2016) – Not every flu strain is created equal and knowing which one a person is infected with can make a big difference in treatment and expectations for recovery.

“Knowing the type of flu you have is just as important as knowing the type of diabetes you have been diagnosed with,” says Leelmohan Ravikumar, MD, a family physician with Troy Primary Care Physicians. “It determines if it’s a strain that can be treated and can tell a person how contagious they may be to those working and living around them.”

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by one of three viral strains that infect a person’s lungs, nose and throat. Classic symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. 

There are three main strains of influenza, which are identified as being either A, B or C. These three strains share symptoms, but vary in their severity and ability to treat.

Influenza A – This form of the flu is the most common and potentially the most severe form. It is the leader when it comes to flu cases that must be hospitalized and even those that end in death, Ravikumar says. A person with Influenza A should be considered highly contagious to those around them. Influenza A that is caught early enough – within the first 48 to 72 hours of symptoms – can usually be successfully treated with anti-viral medications.

Influenza B – This strain of the flu is less severe than A, but cannot be as effectively treated with anti-viral medications. Like A, this strain is covered in most flu vaccinations, which can help a person avoid the flu or help their symptoms to be less severe if they do become infected.

Influenza C – Someone can actually have this strain of the flu and not even know it. It shares symptoms to A and B, but in a much milder form. Influenza C is not included in the yearly immunization. Still, those who have received their flu vaccination and contract this strain of the flu may actually just think they are dealing with a bad cold, Dr. Ravikumar says.

Influenza is diagnosed by a clinical examination of a person’s symptoms, but the strain of flu that the person carries can only be determined by swabbing the inside of a person’s nose and testing it. This can be done in a medical setting and takes only 15 minutes. The answer to that test can help a provider determine next steps for their patient.

“It’s key for friends and family members of an infected individual to know what type of strain they have been exposed to so that when they begin exhibiting symptoms they can get treatment as soon as possible,” says Dr. Ravikumar, who practices with Premier HealthNet. “There is a window of time in which we can effectively treat the flu. A person who can begin anti-viral medications within 48 to 72 hours after experiencing flu symptoms will have the best success in curbing its severity.”

The influenza virus is always changing and the severity of influenza disease in the United States can vary widely. The type of virus circulating, the timing of the flu season, and the efficacy of the vaccine all determine the type of flu season the country will experience, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Off Site Icon  (CDC).

“The influenza virus is not something to take lightly,” Dr. Ravikumar says. “Everyone should get a flu shot, and if infected, understand the illness they have become infected with.”

It’s important to remember that there are exceptions to the rule when it comes to the flu shot. People with severe, life-threatening allergies to the vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine should not receive the flu shot. Those who have an allergy to eggs or have ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome should talk to a physician prior to receiving the flu vaccine. For more information on the flu or to find a Premier HealthNet provider near you, visit

Contact Us

Discover more about Premier Health and join us in building healthier communities in Southwest Ohio. Learn more about working at Premier Health, becoming a volunteer, and making a gift to support our mission.