Flu season: Where investors can find relief

A look at the many companies that benefit from the sufferers' ills.

By InvestorPlace Jan 7, 2013 12:20PM

iplogoSick child Bananastock age fotostockBy Alyssa Oursler


If you didn't get your flu vaccine, you better make sure you wash your hands plenty these days.


Why? Well, influenza season has arrived early ... and could be one of the worst in years. Flu season usually peaks in late January or early February, but the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that influenza activity has already picked up in many states, from Utah to Virginia. In fact, the flu was severe and widespread by November in some parts of the South and Southwest.


So far, the dominant strain is H3N2, which tends to be harder on young kids and the elderly.


The good news is that many companies are set to help us through the season, from preventative vaccines to treatments if you come down with the virus. Let's take a look at some of them.


Flu vaccine

It's a little late to get a flu vaccine, considering the season is already well underway, but a few companies are still providing flu shots and will vaccinate the stragglers. Novartis (NVS) had a scare back in October with its flu vaccine (read on InvestorPlace), but it remains a leading name in the vaccine world with products like Agrippal, Fluad, Fluvirin and Flucelvax.


French pharmaceutical company Sanofi (SNY) makes a variety of vaccines -- including Fluzone, Intanza, Panenza, Humenza and Vaxigrip. Fluzone alone was expected to bring in over $1.3 billion globally in 2012.


Another major player is GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which manufactures Fluarix and FluLaval. And companies like Merck (MRK) and AstraZeneca (AZN) get in on the action through subsidiaries, as InvestorPlace contributor James Brumley explained last month.


Symptom meds

If you do get the flu, you'll probably be saddled with a fever, sore throat, coughing, congestion, fatigue, body aches and all that fun. And you'll likely head to your local CVS (CVS) pharmacy to grab some medicine to ease the pain.


For fever and discomfort, Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ) Tylenol or Pfizer's (PFE) Advil could make you feel better. And then there's cough drops and cough medicine. Kraft Foods (KRFT) spin-off Mondelez (MDLZ) owns Cadbury, which surprisingly manufactures Hall's, while Walgreen (WAG) stocks its own generic brands as well.


There are also decongestants for that stuffy nose and sinuses, like Vick's DayQuil and NyQuil -- all owned by Procter & Gable (PG). And you'll probably want some Kleenex tissues, brought to you courtesy of Kimberly Clark (KMB).


Consumer products

Sometimes you need more than just medicine -- you need comfort and a snack. Whether it's the flu, or even just a cold, a can of Campbell Soup's (CPB) chicken noodle soup is a go-to 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 Schweppe's in the U.S.


A doctor would tell you nothing can be better than good old water because 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.


Finally, if you prefer to turn to some healing tea when you're sick, there's Teavana (TEA) or even options from Starbucks (SBUX) and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR)


Healthcare

For those who are really sick, or for high-risk individuals like the young and elderly, waiting out the flu with some over-the-counter meds and comfort snacks just isn't going to cut it.

Luckily, your healthcare provider -- whether it's Vanguard Health Systems (VHS) or Cigna (CI) -- can help you out with a quick doctor's visit.


Once you're in doc's office, there's a pretty good chance that you'll get prescribed Tamiflu or Relenza. The former is owned by Roche Holdings' (RHHBY) Genentech, while GlaxoSmithKline is responsible for the latter.


Tamiflu is notable, especially for the H3N2 strain, because it's the only product approved to treat flu infection in children younger than one year old.


Hospitals

Hopefully it never comes to this, but many who come down with the flu end up in the hospital. U.S News & Report recently wrote that in Chicago, hospital employees say they're "knee-deep in flu and pneumonia cases," while 10% of emergency room visits in Rhode Island over the last week were because of flu-like symptoms.


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.


Community Health Systems (CYH), Tenet Healthcare (THC) and Health Management Associates (HMA) are other hospital stocks -- and all just finished a strong 2012 (read on InvestorPlace). As flu seasons worsens, their business -- as wrong as it sounds -- might just get better.


As of this writing, Alyssa Oursler did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.


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