Pa. flu season picks up speed, packs a wallop
Pennsylvania recorded more laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza in the last week of December than during the 2011-12 flu season, and health officials warn this could rank among the worst years in recent memory.
“It does not look like that has gone down at all,” said Dr. David A. Nace, who manages flu programs for UPMC. He said the flu season picked up speed in Western Pennsylvania in early December, about a month earlier than usual, and could hit the region hard for eight more weeks.
The last week of 2012 brought 3,193 flu cases statewide, topping last season's total of 3,020, the state Health Department said.
“The flu virus keeps everyone off-guard at all times. That's its job in life,” Nace said. “He who tries to predict the flu season is considered a fool.”
This season, Allegheny County leads Pennsylvania with 726 of 7,181 confirmed flu cases statewide from Oct. 2 through Dec. 29. Doctors warn the reported figures reflect only a fraction of cases.
Although flu shot distribution this year is widespread — the Walgreens and Rite Aid drugstore chains reported year-over-year sales growth — states nationwide have had outbreaks since the flu emerged in November in the South, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Most states are experiencing moderate to severe flu activity, said CDC spokesman Thomas Skinner.
“There's no explanation as to why seasons start early or are normal or severe,” he said. “Flu is unpredictable. Each season is unique.”
West Penn Allegheny Health System doctors anticipate a peak this week, said Dr. Thomas Campbell, chairman of emergency medicine.
“It's hard to say what next week will bring, so maybe it's not the worst” right now, Campbell said. “But it seems higher than I remember from last year.”
He said hospitalizations are most pronounced among the elderly. About 7 percent of reported flu cases in Pennsylvania this season led to hospital stays, on par with averages.
Four flu-related deaths involved patients older than 65, said Holli Senior, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department.
“We have not peaked yet. We're still on our way up the mountain,” Senior said.
Historical trends show more severe case volumes follow mild flu seasons, she said. “We knew last year was a very mild flu season.”
Senior joined doctors in emphasizing it's not too late to get a flu shot, which the CDC recommends for most people. The vaccine developed for 2012-13 is a good match for “the vast majority” of widespread flu strains, said Dr. Ronald Voorhees, acting director at the Allegheny County Health Department.
“The longer you wait, the less likely it is to be helpful,” Voorhees said. It takes about two weeks after inoculation for the vaccine to become fully effective.
Voorhees' department uses a tracking system the University of Pittsburgh developed to monitor severity of flu outbreaks. It shows more than 6 percent of emergency-room visits in the county involve flu-like symptoms. The high is usually between 6 percent and 8 percent, Voorhees said.
“We're as high or higher than some recent years for influenza” on the index, he said. “I'm expecting that we're going to start to peak sometime soon. We've been going up for a month.”
At Pitt, workers in the Student Health Service began seeing an uptick in symptoms before the holiday break, according to Dr. Elizabeth Wettick.
“It's just those high fevers; dry, hacking cough; and that feeling of being hit by a truck,” Wettick said. “The good news is, I'm still offering vaccine to our students. We still have a good supply.”
Pitt junior Tom Farrell, 21, of Rochester, N.Y., was in the campus health office on Monday because of flu symptoms. He said he got sick from his mother during the holiday break.
He didn't get a flu shot, but she did, Farrell said.
“I'm really just supposed to rest a lot, drink a lot of liquids, take it easy on myself,” he said. “Bad timing, but there's nothing you can do about it.”
Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Carnegie Mellon grad’s tweak to tweets turns 7
- Timing of summer’s end a matter of perspective for Western Pennsylvanians
- White House threat sparks call for wider immigration debate
- Outbound 376 reopened after man on exit sign caused closure
- Western Pennsylvania colleges cautious about Ebola risk from students
- Newsmaker: Angelo Martini Sr.
- Limited North Shore tailgating time yields success
- Allegheny County may send Pittsburgh HR complaints
- W.Va. tourism looks ahead after chemical spill
- Newsmaker: Kara Petro Montgomery
- Unidentified body found in Stowe