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Health

Western Pennsylvania bludgeoned by widespread flu bug

Ben Schmitt
| Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, 11:27 a.m.
Port Vue's Kymberli Potersnak, a regulatory compliance nurse with UPMC,  jokingly winces as pharmacist Nicole Bott of Mt. Lebanon gives her a flu vaccine shot, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Falk Pharmacy, which is attached to UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Port Vue's Kymberli Potersnak, a regulatory compliance nurse with UPMC, jokingly winces as pharmacist Nicole Bott of Mt. Lebanon gives her a flu vaccine shot, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Falk Pharmacy, which is attached to UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland.

Flu activity is now widespread in Pennsylvania with Allegheny and Westmoreland counties getting hit hard with the nasty virus.

There have been 906 cases reported in Allegheny County, 318 in Westmoreland County, 134 in Butler County and 302 in Washington County, according to the state Department of Health.

The state has reported six flu-related deaths, but did not disclose, as policy, where they occurred.

The most recent figures, which are updated weekly, run through Dec. 30.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines widespread flu activity as outbreaks in at least half of the regions in the state.

In total, there are 6,221 cases reported in the state, and Alle­gheny County has the most.

Two weeks ago, the state was not yet classified as widespread, and there were only 95 flu cases reported in Allegheny County and 40 in Westmoreland County.

“There's certainly been a significant increase in the last two to three weeks,” said Dr. Marc Itskowitz, an Allegheny Health Network internal medicine physician. “Looking at the numbers, I would say we are likely approaching the peak, but we still have a couple of weeks to go.”

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.

The flu 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 arctic blast impacting the region will not help.

“As temperatures fall in the area and people are more likely to congregate indoors, I expect flu transmission to intensify as the virus will find more opportunities to spread from person-to-person,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, Pittsburgh-based infectious disease expert for the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Also, as students return to school there is likely to be more transmission facilitated by interactions at schools.”

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

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.

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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