Skip to main content

How are Influenza A and B Different?

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a viral respiratory illness that affects millions of people worldwide each year.1 While there are various strains and types of the influenza virus, two of the most prevalent are influenza type A and type B.1 Learn the key differences between these two types of flu, their symptoms, and how to protect yourself to stay healthy during flu season.

Influenza Type A

Influenza type A is a highly contagious virus that is known for causing seasonal epidemics, as well as occasional pandemics that can have widespread and severe health implications.1 Here are some key characteristics of influenza type A:1

  • Subtypes: Influenza type A is further categorized into subtypes based on their surface proteins, hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). These subtypes, such as H1N1 and H3N2, are responsible for different flu strains.
  • Hosts: Influenza type A viruses can infect a wide range of hosts, including humans, birds, and animals, making them more prone to mutations.

Influenza Type B

Influenza type B is another type of influenza virus, but it has some distinct characteristics that set it apart from Type A:

  • Subtypes: Unlike influenza type A, type B viruses do not have subtypes. They are classified into lineages and strains.2
  • Hosts: Influenza type B primarily infects humans and is less likely to infect animals or birds.1

Which Flu is Worse: A or B?

When flu season rolls around, people may wonder how severe getting the flu will be. The difference in severity between types A and B depends on various factors, including the specific strains circulating and individual health conditions. Here are some considerations:

  • Severity: In general, influenza type A is more likely to cause severe illness and complications, making it potentially worse for some individuals. They are the only influenza viruses known to cause flu pandemics.1
  • Vaccine Coverage: The flu vaccine is typically designed to provide protection against both influenza type A and B. Getting vaccinated is a crucial step in reducing the severity of the illness.2
  • Individual Risk: Individuals with certain underlying health conditions may be more vulnerable to severe flu symptoms2, regardless of its type. Factors that may increase your risk of getting the flu include age, race, chronic illnesses, a weakened immune system, and more.3 Talk to your doctor if you have any underlying health conditions that can impact your vulnerability.

Additionally, certain children and adults at high risk may develop complications, regardless of type. Complications may include the following: 3

  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Asthma flare-ups
  • Heart problems
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome

Symptoms of Influenza A and B

Both influenza type A and type B share common symptoms, making it challenging to distinguish between them without laboratory testing. Some typical flu symptoms include:3

  • Fever or Chills
  • Cough
  • Sore Throat
  • Runny or Stuffy Nose
  • Muscle or Body Aches
  • Fatigue
  • Headache

It's essential to note that symptoms can vary in severity from person to person, and some individuals may experience more severe symptoms or complications.

Protecting Yourself from Influenza

Preventing the flu is crucial for maintaining your health, especially during flu season. The most effective way to reduce your risk of getting sick and spreading the virus is getting vaccinated.3However, there are plenty of ways to help with prevention on a day-to-day basis. Here are some practical steps to protect yourself:4

  • Practice Good Hygiene: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoid close contact with sick individuals.
  • Stay Home When Sick: If you become ill with flu-like symptoms, stay home to prevent the spread of the virus to coworkers, friends, and family.
  • Keep your distance: Keep your distance from people who are sick. If you get the flu, you should also avoid close contact with others to protect them.

Understanding the differences between influenza type A and type B is essential for making informed decisions about flu prevention and management. While both types can cause similar symptoms, severe outbreaks of type A influenza can result in pandemics that spread more severely.1 Regardless of the type, annual vaccination and good hygiene practices remain the best strategies for staying protected during flu season. Stay informed, healthy, and take steps to safeguard yourself and your loved ones from the flu.

Recommended Articles

Man with cold or flu sleeping peacefully

11 Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep When You’re Sick

Get plenty of rest with Theraflu’s tips for getting a good night’s sleep even when sleeping with a cold. Find relief and ease your symptoms with Theraflu.