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Who’s Cashing in on Flu Season?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As Americans cope with flu symptoms, the onslaught of germaphobia and the debate over whether to get the vaccine or not has many U.S. businesses cashing. We're not just talking about medical businesses that produce the vaccine and treat the flu: everything from tissues to hand sanitizers to orange juice are flying off the shelves.

Walgreens Pharmacy tells ABC News that they increase their store inventories of flu-related products every flu season.

"We're seeing an increase in demand for facial tissues, sports drinks, and thermometers among other items," said Jim Graham, senior manager of corporate communications for Walgreens.

Walgreens adds they've had shortages of the flu vaccine at some locations, but have generally been able to restock within 24-48 hours.

Another popular flu item according to Walgreens is hand sanitizer, which many employers buy in bulk and can be found in workplaces, restaurants, and homes throughout the country. The hand sanitizer Purell says they "anticipate increased demand for hand sanitizer given the urgent need for protect public health."

Perhaps nothing is as closely associated with the flu as chicken noodle soup. Steven T. Young, the director of marketing at Seamless.com, an online food ordering site serving 10 major U.S. markets, says they've seen a 35 percent spike in Chicken Noodle Soup orders compared to this time last year.

"Because so many people are sick and staying inside, we've seen an increase in orders," said Young. "Orange Juice sales are up 19 percent and Gatorade is up 10 percent."

Some other winners during a bad flu season are the nation's major pharmaceutical companies like Novartis, which produces a flu vaccine.

"We're seeing a surge in pharmaceutical stocks over the last few weeks," said Damien Conover, director of pharmaceutical research at the investment information firm Morningstar.

Conover says the vaccine makers benefit from selling the inventory they've already manufactured because the majority of production is complete before the flu season begins.

The vaccine is not produced overnight and takes weeks to make. The expiration date also limits the shelf life of the vaccines. Conover says the long-term picture is where manufacturers really benefit.

"As demand goes up, manufacturers can increase their prices for next year because their product will most likely be in greater need. And for patients, a busy flu season means vaccine makers will put more capital into research and development to make a stronger more effective vaccine," said Conover.

Although these companies may make a profit this flu season, they often have soft sales during a mild season.

But perhaps the biggest winners from this year's flu season will be those of us who manage to avoid the virus.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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