It’s that time of the year again — the time when coughing and sniffling echoes across the office and plagues the outside world as influenza begins rearing its ugly head once again.
As of right now, though, there’s a chance we won’t know just how bad flu season is. That’s because the federal employees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who track and monitor the virus have been furloughed.
And while the vaccine is already widely available across the country, there’s more downside from the government shutdown. According to NBC News, the CDC also won’t have the employees to “tell whether this year’s flu strains are susceptible to antiviral drugs” … or “say whether the 135 million doses of vaccine already produced this year are a good match for circulating strains of the virus.”
However, while governmental agencies have their hands tied, publicly traded companies are at the ready. These firms all do their best to get us through the season, from preventive vaccines to treatments if you come down with the virus. Let’s take a look at some of them.
While the CDC hasn’t been able to analyze the circulating virus yet, there’s not much we can do about it. So the best course of action for now is to get a flu shot — especially while it’s still early in flu season.
Novartis (NVS), to start, had a scare last October with its flu vaccine, but it’s still one of the world’s top vaccine producers, boasting Agrippal, Fluad, Flucelvax and Fluvirin.
French pharmaceutical company Sanofi (SNY) also makes several vaccines — including Fluzone, Intanza, Panenza and Vaxigrip. In fact, Fluzone High-Dose was recently shown to offer 24% better protection than the regular formula in patients 65 and older, and research firm Global Data said Sanofi’s Fluzone franchise of influenza vaccine products “is expected to help position the multinational vaccine manufacturer as a formidable player in the U.S. market.”
Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) manufactures Fluarix and FluLaval, and companies such as Merck (MRK) and AstraZeneca (AZN) get in on the action through subsidiaries, as InvestorPlace contributor James Brumley explained last flu season.
If you do get the flu, you’ll probably be saddled with a fever, sore throat, coughing, congestion, fatigue, body aches and more. That means a trip to your local CVS (CVS) pharmacy to grab some medicine to ease the pain.
Johnson & Johnson’s (JNJ) Tylenol or Pfizer’s (PFE) Advil are good options for fever and discomfort, while cough drops and cough medicine can also help ease the pain. Kraft Foods (KRFT) spinoff Mondelez (MDLZ) owns Cadbury, which makes delicious chocolate eggs, yes … but also Halls lozenges. Walgreen (WAG) stocks its own generic brands as well.
Then there are decongestants for that stuffy nose and sinuses, such as Vicks, DayQuil and NyQuil — all owned by Procter & Gamble (PG). And you’ll probably want some Kleenex tissues, which are made by diversified personal care corporation Kimberly-Clark (KMB).
After the vaccine fails and you get your symptom meds, sometimes you still need a little more. Maybe a hug, maybe a snack … or maybe some comfort food.
The most obvious and classic choice — whether it’s the flu, or even just a cold — is a can of Campbell Soup’s (CPB) chicken noodle soup. A warm bowl is a go-to for those looking to ease a sore throat and regain some strength.
Ginger ale is another common choice. Coca-Cola (KO) makes Seagram’s, while Dr Pepper Snapple (DPS) owns Canada Dry and markets Schweppes in the U.S.
And for those who prefer some healing tea when you’re sick, there’s options from Starbucks (SBUX) — which bought out Teavana — and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR).
Of course, the most important thing to keep next to your bed while you’re ailing is probably some good old water. As your doctor would tell you, staying hydrated is key when you’re battling the flu. If you need it from a bottle, PepsiCo’s (PEP) Aquafina is an option, along with Coca-Cola’s Dasani.
Not everyone can battle the flu with some over-the-counter meds and comfort foods. Folks who are really sick and high-risk individuals like the young and elderly will probably need some professional care.
That’s where healthcare providers such as Aetna (AET) or Cigna (CI) come in. They can help you out with a quick doctor’s visit.
And once you’re in doc’s office, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll get prescribed Tamiflu or Relenza — unless we get the CDC up and running, and it decides antiviral drugs won’t do the trick. The former is owned by Roche’s (RHHBY) Genentech, while GlaxoSmithKline is responsible for the latter.
Tamiflu is notable, especially for the H3N2 strain that was prevalent last flu season, because it’s the only product approved to treat flu infection in children younger than 1.
Hopefully it never comes to this, but many who come down with the flu end up in the hospital.
Enter HCA Holdings (HCA), the nation’s biggest hospital operator. It runs more than 160 hospitals across the country, including many in the South, where the flu season hit the earliest last year. Community Health Systems (CYH) and Health Management Associates (HMA) are other hospital stocks that could see business from the flu.
And given the current state of the CDC, Harvard Medical School epidemiologist John Brownstein thinks severe cases could be common this season.
“If this flu season hits early and we don’t have the most important national voice promoting vaccination, we will see unnecessary illnesses, some of which could be severe or fatal,” Brownstein told NBC.
As of this writing, Alyssa Oursler did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.