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Health

Pennsylvania spared from widespread flu activity, for now

Ben Schmitt
| Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, 10:51 a.m.
A flu vaccination.
AFP/Getty Images
A flu vaccination.

A dozen states are reporting widespread flu activity but, so far, Pennsylvania has been spared as the holidays near.

Pennsylvania's status is labeled “local” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meaning increases are limited to a single region of the state. Widespread activity means the flu has been confirmed in at least half the regions of a state.

“I suspect it is only a matter of time before we climb to this status,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease expert for the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Influenza is a very easily transmissible virus, and more cases will inexorably spread in Pennsylvania, which currently has local influenza activity in many areas of the state while two bordering states already have widespread activity.”

Ohio and New York, which border Pennsylvania, are reporting widespread activity, according to the CDC.

Much of the concern this season can be traced to Australia and other countries in the Southern Hemisphere, which struggled with a severe flu strain called H3N2 .

More than 90 percent of the flu specimens tested nationally, so far, are H3N2, the CDC said.

There have been 95 cases reported in Allegheny County, 40 in Westmoreland County, 25 in Butler County and 54 in Washington County, according to the state Department of Health. The state has reported one flu-related death of an unidentified person between the age of 50 and 64.

“Personally, I have already treated several cases in the state, and Pennsylvania data show a steady rise in the number of reported flu cases across the state,” Adalja said. “This year's flu season is anticipated to be more severe than usual, and widespread activity in Pennsylvania is imminent.”

The CDC said these 12 states are reporting widespread cases of the flu: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Getting a flu vaccination can either prevent the virus altogether or reduce symptoms for those who contract it.

The vaccine is generally about 40 percent to 50 percent effective each year, although some experts are concerned it will not be as effective this season.

The flu kills about 36,000 people a year, on average, according to the CDC. Flu activity usually begins in October and peaks between December and March.

Common symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches, headaches and severe fatigue. Symptoms can last a week to 10 days.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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