Flu spike brings action; 6,966 cases reported

| Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

With flu cases running rampant across Pennsylvania, at least one county in the region is planning an emergency flu vaccination clinic today.

The Indiana County Emergency Management Agency and Indiana Regional Medical center are holding the clinics to offer free shots at three sites in the county — the first time they've done so since the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak.

“There's been a surge in the past couple of weeks through our emergency department and our Urgicares, and also there's been an influx in the state of Pennsylvania,” said Vickie Clevenger, Indiana Regional Medical Center's employee health coordinator. “Last year was a fairly light flu season, so I guess we're paying for that right now.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Health issued an advisory to health care facilities Thursday saying 6,966 laboratory-positive cases of influenza had been reported in the state since the beginning of December, including 439 hospitalizations and four deaths.

“The number of cases reported so far is much higher than what has been reported at this time in previous seasons,” according to the advisory, which indicates the flu season has not reached its peak.

Kate Rosatti, director of medical outcomes with Excela Health, said the Westmoreland County system's three hospitals and its doctor's offices have all seen an increase in patients with flu and other respiratory illnesses.

“Our emergency rooms have been very busy,” Rosatti said. “... We definitely feel the volume, but our number of (inpatient) cases are not astronomical.”

The health system has admitted 60 patients with flu since Dec. 1, though its laboratory has confirmed 288 cases.

Health system employees are encouraging both admitted patients and those going to physicians' offices to get flu shots, although no special vaccination clinics are planned, Rosatti said.

Highlands Hospital's 71 beds are near capacity, said Vicki Meier, spokeswoman for the Connellsville facility.

“We are definitely seeing an influx of patients with the flu,” she said.

No emergency vaccination clinics are scheduled for Fayette County, said Emergency Management Director Roy Shipley.

“We've done that in the past, but as of now nobody's made us aware of a need to do that right now,” he said.

Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or jreeger@tribweb.com.

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