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Flu cases continue to rise in Western Pennsylvania

Ben Schmitt
| Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, 4:18 p.m.
A flu vaccination.
AFP/Getty Images
A flu vaccination.

Flu cases continue to skyrocket in Western Pennsylvania, mirroring a national trend, according to statistics released Tuesday by the state Department of Health.

Allegheny County reported 2,982 flu cases through Saturday, up from 1.842 a week earlier , and Westmoreland County had 924, up from 658. There have been 377 cases so far in Butler County and 773 in Washington County.

"Laboratory, hospital emergency department and sentinel medical provider data all indicate that the flu activity increased sharply from past weeks," the health department wrote in its weekly report.

Allegheny County health officials reported three residents died last week of flu-related complications . A man in his 80s died about two weeks ago.

Statewide, flu complications have killed 32. Of those, 25 were older than 65.

In Westmoreland County, Kyler Baughman, a seemingly healthy 21-year-old man from Latrobe, died of flu-related complications Dec. 28.

Much of this season's concern can be traced to Australia and other countries in the Southern Hemisphere, which struggled with a severe flu strain called H3N2. That strain is now wreaking havoc on the United States. Some experts speculate this year's vaccine may be only 10 percent effective against the flu strain.

The vaccine is generally about 50 percent effective. However, those who get a flu shot and still contract the virus will most likely have less-severe symptoms, experts say.

Antiviral medication, like Tamiflu, can reduce duration of infection and lessen symptoms if administered early.

Flu is widespread in every state except Hawaii, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Associated Press reported that patients who went to the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center near San Diego had to wait as long as nine hours for treatment. The hospital was using a tent outside to handle the overflow.

"We're having to treat people in hallways, in chairs, wherever we have space," said Michelle Gunnett, the director of emergency services.

There's a tent in place at Kaweah Delta Medical Center in the Central California city of Visalia, where doctors this week have been pulling double and triple shifts to keep up.

"It's like a MASH unit," said Dr. Ed Hirsch, the hospital's chief medical officer.

Several hospitals in California are treating flu patients in so-called "surge tents" intended for major disasters, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In Chicago, paramedics have been forced to wait at ERs with patients for as long as two hours for an open spot. That means the ambulances can't be used for other calls, said Larry Langford, a spokesman for the city's fire department.

Flu symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches, headaches and severe fatigue.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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