Swine flu part of reported early-season cases in Pennsylvania

Flu cases have been on the rise in Allegheny County. A VCM swab set used for testing for influenza at UPMC Urgent Care in Shadyside on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013.
Flu cases have been on the rise in Allegheny County. A VCM swab set used for testing for influenza at UPMC Urgent Care in Shadyside on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013.
Photo by Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Luis Fábregas
| Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, 11:42 p.m.

Swine flu and other flu strains are increasing in Pennsylvania and hospitals and urgent care clinics are starting to see more patients with symptoms.

“In the last one to two weeks, we've seen a significant increase in activity,” said Dr. Marc Itskowitz, a primary care practitioner for Allegheny Health Network based at Allegheny General Hospital. “It's still hard to predict what kind of season we're going to have.”

Pennsylvania is one of 10 states reporting widespread flu activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officials said the nation's flu season so far is typical for December. Flu tends to peak in January or February.

Allegheny and Blair counties lead Pennsylvania in reported flu cases, according to state Department of Health data. More than 80 percent of the 1,159 cases statewide are the H1N1 strain, or swine flu, said Dr. Ram Nambiar, the department's acting director of epidemiology.

The H1N1 strain caused a pandemic in 2009. Its re-emergence is not viewed as worrisome because this year's vaccine protects people against it and two other strains that are circulating, Nambiar said.

“If people get their flu shot, we may not see as many cases,” Nambiar said.

Dr. Raymond Pitetti, associate director of emergency medicine at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said doctors at the Lawrenceville facility are seeing five to seven cases of flu a week. So far, the activity is lower than it was last year, he said.

“The numbers aren't high yet, but they will get high,” Pitetti said.

Children younger than 2 can experience severe, even deadly, complications from influenza, according to the CDC. The agency recommends the vaccine for anyone age 6 months or older.

“We think the flu vaccine this year will make a big difference,” said Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department.

The county has recorded 19 cases of flu, compared with 30 cases reported at this time last year. County officials recorded just more than 1,400 cases during the past flu season.

“We're still at the earlier portion of what we would be expecting to see,” Hacker said. “We start seeing more cases when the weather gets cold.”

Across UPMC's 20 emergency rooms and nine urgent care centers in the region, activity has picked up but not substantially, said Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC's chief of emergency medicine.

“There's been a very small increase,” Yealy said. “This is about what's common for this time of the year.

Luis Fábregas is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7998 or lfabregas@tribweb.com.

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