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Flu has yet to peak in Western Pennsylvania

| Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, 1:15 p.m.
Allegheny County Health Department pharmacy chief Nancy Caracciolo shows off the flu vaccine Friday September 7, 2012 inside a cooler in the department's facility in Lawrenceville.
James Knox  |   Tribune-Review
Allegheny County Health Department pharmacy chief Nancy Caracciolo shows off the flu vaccine Friday September 7, 2012 inside a cooler in the department's facility in Lawrenceville. James Knox | Tribune-Review

Flu cases in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties continue to rise, an indication that the season has yet to peak.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health said the number of cases in Allegheny County from Oct. 1 to Feb. 3 totaled 6,286, compared with 5,252 for the previous reporting period ending Jan. 27. In Westmoreland County, the number of cases came to 1,790, up 213 from the previous period. Butler County had 697 flu cases, and Washington County had 1,377, the department said. Overall, the flu claimed 26 more lives, bringing the total of flu-related deaths in Pennsylvania to 91.

"These numbers underscore how infectious influenza really is," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a Pittsburgh physician. "People don't understand what a killer flu really is and tend to be lackadaisical about getting vaccinated."

In a typical year, the flu kills about 36,000 people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Pennsylvania, more than 47,500 cases of flu have been reported.

The flu season officially begins in October and ends on the 20th week of the following year, the state said. It is estimated that 5 percent to 20 percent of people in Pennsylvania get the flu each year and 120 to 2,000 will die from flu-related complications.

H3N2 has been the predominant flu strain this season.

Dr. Marc Itskowitz, an internal medicine physician with Allegheny Health Network, said the flu typically migrates from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere. Based on the number of flu cases in places such as Australia, a severe flu season was expected.

"It takes about six months to prepare 150 million flu vaccines," said Itskowitz, adding that by the time the virus arrived in the Northern Hemisphere, the virus had mutated and reduced the effectiveness of the vaccine.

"In Australia, the effectivity rate was 10 percent," he said. "That is one of the lower values we have seen in a while."

Itskowitz said a flu vaccine still offers some protection.

"It's still not too late to get one," he said.

Suzanne Elliott is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at selliott@tribweb.com or via Twitter @41Suzanne.

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