Meadville Tribune

December 18, 2012

It may be just a matter of time until state's flu outbreak hits locally

By Konstantine Fekos
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — The Pennsylvania Department of Health has classified the state’s flu activity as widespread, but Crawford and neighboring counties appear to be bucking the trend — at least for now.

“I know of the reports coming in from the state, but I’m not aware of any local area overwhelmed with flu issues at this point,” said Dr. Barry Bittman, chief executive officer of the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Vernon Township. Dr. Denise Johnson, chief medical officer of Meadville Medical Center, echoed Bittman’s remarks.

Northwestern Pennsylvania’s low figures stand in contrast with reports from the state’s central and southern regions, according to the state Department of Health. Reports place Allegheny County as having the highest recorded cases to date, with 157 as of the department’s most recent reported issued Dec. 8. Out of the state’s 834 laboratory-positive flu cases as of Dec. 8, Crawford County showed only four cases and surrounding counties were also in the single digits.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the flu won’t hit hard here. It may be just a matter of time. “We’ll see how it unravels,” Bittman said.

Across the state, medical officials are concerned because there typically are not this number of reported flu cases until later in the season — usually January, according to state Department of Health officials.

As a result, health officials urge those who have not yet had the flu vaccine to do so now.

“If you decided to wait, now is the perfect time to get vaccinated against the flu,” said Michael Wolf, Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of health.

The vaccine takes about 10 to 14 days to reach its full protective benefit and the state Department of Health advises everyone over the age of 6 months be vaccinated.

The state Department of Health also asks residents to take “common sense precautions” to prevent further spread of the flu, including covering their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, remaining home when ill and washing hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

High-use surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected, especially if someone has been coughing or sneezing in the area, the department added.

“We want everyone to have a safe and healthy holiday season,” said Wolf.

In addition to getting the flu vaccine, here are several ways to help protect yourself from the flu, according to the state Department of Health.

- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

- Stay at home when ill.

- Wash your hands often with soap and water. Alcohol based hand sanitizers can also be used when soap and water are not handy.

- Clean and disinfect high use surfaces, especially if someone has been coughing or sneezing in the area.