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Flu worsens in Allegheny County

Ben Schmitt
| Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, 4:30 p.m.
A flu vaccination.
AFP/Getty Images
A flu vaccination.
Influenza vaccine at the Allegheny County Health Department in Oakland on Wednesday, October 22, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Influenza vaccine at the Allegheny County Health Department in Oakland on Wednesday, October 22, 2014.

The flu's stranglehold on Allegheny County is getting worse.

Through Wednesday, the county has reported 1,379 flu cases, up about 50 percent from last year at this time. Hospitalizations are also up: 148 through Wednesday, compared to 90 last year.

“Given the uptick in infection, we urge residents to get their flu shots, if they have not yet received one,” said Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department. “It's not too late.”

The state Department of Health tracks Westmoreland County's flu statistics and the most recent update shows 318 through Dec. 30 along with 134 in Butler County and 302 in Washington County, according to the state Department of Health.

Many experts expressed concern over this season's flu vaccine efficacy. Some estimate it could only be 10 percent effective, although that has not been proven.

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.

Dr. Bill Pasculle, director of UPMC's clinical microbiology laboratories, said it's too early to determine the vaccine's efficacy in the United States.

Still, he said, “There is a lot of flu out there. I haven't seen this kind of positivity since the 2009 swine flu.”

The flu vaccine is generally about 40 percent to 50 percent effective each year.

Hacker said antivirals medicines like Tamiflu can help reduce symptoms and flu duration for those infected.

“Residents should call their health care provider as soon as possible if they're experiencing flu symptoms to determine if antiviral drugs should be prescribed,” she said. This medication works best if started within two days of onset of symptoms.

“All residents can take precautions too: Wash your hands. Do not cough or sneeze into your hands — cough or sneeze into your shoulder or elbow instead. And stay at home if you have flu symptoms.”

Pasculle emphasized that a flu vaccine can also reduce symptoms for those still unlucky enough to contract the virus.

“I think people should make every effort to get vaccinated, clean their hands regularly and, if possible, stay out of public places unless you have to be there,” he said. “My girlfriend asked me to go to the movies this weekend, and I told her that we are going to get Redbox.”

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

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