Pennsylvania is devastated by flu

Reports say the epidemic is widespread, with infections still rising


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  • Flu rates in Pennsylvania, week 5 (Pennsylvania Department of Health)



The Pennsylvania Department of Health has given this year's flu season its highest activity code, "widespread," on Feb. 3, at the end of the epidemic's fifth week. The state is one of the hardest-hit in the nation.

Pike County has 63 confirmed cases of flu so far, up from 43 last week. Wayne County has a much higher rate than Pike, with 313 confirmed cases, up from 148 last week. Monroe County is somewhere in the middle, with 322 confirmed cases, up from 248. And rates are still shooting up.

Some small counties, like Center and Potter, have an even higher rate of flu.

These influenza case counts include only those cases with a positive laboratory test for flu and represent only a fraction of the actual burden of influenza occurring in the commonwealth at any given time because most people with flu don't see the doctor.

The health department found laboratory-confirmed influenza in at least half the regions of the state, warranting the designation of "widespread." The flu activity code describes the geographic spread of influenza in Pennsylvania — that is, how much of Pennsylvania is experiencing influenza activity — but not how severe the influenza season is.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control say it's the worst flu season in ten years. Pennsylvania's health department monitors influenza activity throughout the year but ramps up surveillance activities in the fall and winter. For the 2017-2018 season, the influenza surveillance season began on Oct. 1, 2017, and will run through May 19, 2018.

The Feb. 3 Pennsylvania Weekly Influenza Report says:

Laboratory, hospital emergency department, and sentinel medical provider data all indicate that the flu activity increased from past weeks.

Flu activity for week 5 has increased in all the state regions and highest activity has been in the southeast region.

Twenty-six influenza associated deaths were reported during week 5 and total number of reported influenza associated death is 91, season to date, including one pediatric case.

Influenza spread and severity varies widely from season to season. It is estimated that five to 20 percent (600,000 to 2,400,000) of Pennsylvanians get the flu each year, and 120 to 2,000 die from complications of influenza.

The CDC still recommends getting this season’s flu shot, even though it's been less effective than usual, because it might reduce the severity of the flu should you contract it. In past years flu shots have been from 40 percent to 60 percent effective against strains other than H3N2. This year, the effectiveness against H3N2, the culprit in the majority of cases reported so far, is under 20 percent, Canadian researchers reported recently.

What do you do when you get sick?

What to do if you get sickMost people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs, says the CDC. If you get sick, stay home and avoid contact with other people except health care providers.

But if you have flu symptoms, are in a high-risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider, CDC says. When flu strikes young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions, it’s best to contact a doctor early, since antiviral treatments have the greatest benefit if started within two days after the onset of illness.

CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or other necessities. Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol. You should stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings.

In milder cases, get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids. If possible, avoid over-the-counter medicines that suppress coughs and dry out sinuses.

OnlinePennsylvania Department of Health: health.pa.gov

Centers for Disease Control: cdc.gov

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