Flu fight demands vigilance
Flu season made its earliest arrival in Western Pennsylvania in nearly a decade, but awareness and an effective seasonal vaccine could undermine a rapid outbreak, health officials said.
Doctors in Western Pennsylvania began diagnosing widespread influenza in early December, part of a national surge that developed about a month earlier than usual. Allegheny County led the state with 551 laboratory-confirmed flu cases — about 14 percent of the Pennsylvania total — from Oct. 16 through Dec. 22, though doctors said varied reporting practices may make statewide figures inconsistent.
Some 600,000 to 1.3 million Pennsylvanians get the flu each year, according to state health officials. Flu season generally runs from October to May.
“It definitely is here, and we're definitely seeing a ton of it in the community,” said Dr. David A. Nace, chief of medical affairs for UPMC Senior Communities.
He said the H3N2 strain that's common this season tends to be severe in the elderly.
Yet doctors said the most prevalent flu strains do not appear any worse than normal. And the vaccination formula, developed by the Food and Drug Administration in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, appears a good match to fight those strains, said Dr. Ronald Voorhees, interim health director for the county Health Department.
The earlier flu season arrives, he said, the more people tend to follow physicians' advice and get flu shots. Federal, state and local health officials strongly recommend the shot, which requires a couple of weeks after inoculation to take full effect.
“If kids get vaccinated, it can protect other people who are at higher risk,” Voorhees said. Nace noted that the vaccination has proven effective in preventing fatalities and hospitalizations, with fewer than 10 percent of flu sufferers this season being admitted for hospital stays.
“I think it speaks to the success of the flu vaccine,” he said.
The CDC suggests that everyone 6 months and older be vaccinated. The agency estimates that the vaccine is 60 percent to 70 percent effective in fighting the flu virus.
The CDC does not have a precise efficacy rate for the 2012 vaccine formula, according to spokesman Thomas Skinner.
An estimated 42 percent of Americans, or 132 million people, received flu shots in 2011, up from 25 percent in 2000. As many as 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu each year.
Preliminary data suggest overall vaccination rates are roughly on par with 2011 numbers, with more health-care workers and young children receiving the shot, Skinner said.
People heed warning
Chicago-based Walgreens, one of the largest U.S. drugstore chains, administered 5.3 million flu shots between Aug. 6 and Dec. 19, slightly more than the 5.2 million administered during the same period last year, company spokesman Jim Cohn said.
He said the CDC announcement of an early flu season, issued several weeks ago, affected sales.
“Many stores have seen an increase in flu shots administered in the wake of that,” Cohn said. The company would not break out sales data by month.
Although the spread of flu viruses often pick up speed in January in Western Pennsylvania, doctors said, forecasting the rest of the season is an inexact science. The virus' spread might soon ease, they noted, or a new strain could emerge and wreak havoc anew.
Apart from the flu shot, doctors offered several suggestions for stopping the spread of the virus: Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, and stay home if you're sick.
And don't discount the importance of hand-washing, said Dr. Richard Wadas, an emergency physician at UPMC Shadyside.
“It's really simple, and it does significantly help prevent the flu,” he said.
Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or email@example.com.
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.
- Icy roads slow traffic across Western Pa.
- Steelers notebook: Injury to RT Gilbert opens door for Adams to start
- Stakes high as ex-Saints receiver Moore faces his former team
- Pitt receiver Boyd continues to grow on and off the field
- Police identify driver in North Side crash that killed pregnant woman
- Penguins GM prepares for emotional series against Carolina
- Penguins notebook: Winning home games crucial for Penguins
- Allegheny County Council wants to hike members’ $3K expense accounts
- Steelers’ backups Archer, Harris ready to run
- Youngwood gets 1st full-size grocery in nearly 20 years
- Black Friday trends, tactics change, but Americans still love bargains