By Konstantine Fekos
Pennsylvania’s flu season is nearing dangerous levels prior to its usual peak, as confirmed cases have reached the highest level of outbreak, according to the Department of Health’s latest reports.
“Widespread” status, the highest category for tracking the virus, was achieved statewide after more than 11,000 laboratory confirmed flu cases since the season’s start in mid-December.
Department reports suggest flu activity will only get worse as the season reaches its peak sometime around mid-January or February.
Crawford County, initially off the epidemic radar in early December, saw a sudden rise in lab-positive cases from single to triple digits, capping at 112 between Oct. 2 and Jan. 5, according to department statistics.
Hospitals in surrounding counties have reported substantial spikes and severe cases, including Erie County’s first fatality of the season earlier this month.
Crawford County hospitals have not yet reported any extreme cases, but above all recommend vaccination, in accordance with Department of Health’s most prominent advice.
“We have been treating patients with the flu,” said Dr. Laura Beebe of Meadville Medical Center. “They’ve all been kind of ranging; we haven’t really had any severe cases.”
Local medical officials still urge residents to take necessary precautions, as the flu vaccine typically takes about 10 to 14 days to take full effect.
The American Red Cross is also pushing for western Pennsylvania residents to get their flu shots, offering preventative steps and warning to seek medical care immediately upon developing flu-like symptoms, according to Lauren Ashley, American Red Cross spokesperson.
The Department of Health advises everyone over the age of 6 months be vaccinated.
Senior citizens face an especially high risk of severe cases, seeing as this season’s primary flu strain, H3N2 or Influenza A, has a more prominent adverse effect on older people.
“Symptoms such as fever, body aches, tiredness, chills and cough are more comment and intense with the flu,” according to the Department of Health. “If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical attention.”
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially termed this season’s flu an epidemic and reported that while some states have less overall activity, the 2012-13 season is one of the worst nationwide in at least 10 years.
CDC reports place Pennsylvania at high activity on a national scale.
“Influenza vaccination is the single most effective way of preventing influence infection,” according to a CDC release. “Even among those who are not entirely protected, the vaccine still reduces the complications of influenza.”
Drug stores and some major supermarkets like TOPS or Wal-Mart can offer flu vaccines, according to the Department of Health website. Vaccination sites are searchable by county via the department’s Flu Shot Finder under the Diseases and Conditions tab at health.state.pa.us.
Numerous sources reported to the Tribune that little flu serum remains at certain pharmacies and senior centers, which are subsequently hoping for more.
Recent reports from New York, one of the highest flu-activity states at present, included pharmacy shortages of liquid Tamiflu, prescription flu medicine designed to relieve symptoms, as a result of extreme demand and limited supplies.
Food and Drug Administration officials reported similar shortages across the country.
The Department of Health has reported at least 971 flu-related hospitalizations and 22 deaths statewide.
Lab-confirmed flu cases for other counties, between Oct. 2 and Jan. 5, were: Erie, 275; Mercer, 132; Venango, 55; and Warren, 78.
-More information: Visit flufreepa.com.
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Be careful what you touch. Hands transmit germs.
Cover your nose and mouth with hands or tissues when coughing or sneezing.
Get plenty of rest, eat properly and dress appropriately for the weather.
When ill, prevent the spread of germs by staying home from school or the workplace, if possible.
During flu season, minimize time in crowded areas, such as shopping centers, and avoid contact with those at high risk for the flu.