Flu cases in Pennsylvania took an upward turn in mid-December, possibly on it’s way to the surge that often follows holiday season gatherings and subsequent return to school and work.
As of about two weeks ago, Pennsylvania flu cases were following a line similar to the early part of last season, which turned out to be one of the worst flu seasons in more than a decade.
Still, that’s no sign it will end up as bad as last year, when a mutation in the predominant flu strain allowed it to get around last year’s batch of flu vaccine, resulting in many more hospitalizations and deaths than usual.
This season, the main strain seen so far appears to match the ones the vaccine is formulated to protect against, according to early analysis from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Pennsylvania, flu cases often begin spiking in late December and early January before reaching a peak during February and dropping off quickly.
As of about two weeks ago, the Pennsylvania Department of Health had detected a “regional level” of flu cases in the state, meaning there was a noteworthy uptick in some but not all parts of the state. Four deaths had been attributed to the flu, with three involving people 50 or older, and none involving a child.
In the Harrisburg region, Geisinger Holy Spirit Hospital saw seven people with the flu come to the emergency room in December, with two needing to be hospitalized, spokeswoman Lori Moran said on Monday. Last December, several patients per day were coming to the ER with the flu, she said.
UPMC Pinnacle, which operates seven hospitals in the region, is “seeing minimal cases of the flu thus far,” according to spokeswoman Kelly McCall.
Last season, 256 deaths were attributed to the flu in Pennsylvania, where the flu season officially runs from October until May. The big story last season was the number of children, 171 across the United States, who died after getting flu, including many who seemed to be healthy right before coming down with the flu. Normally, most flu deaths involve people whose bodies are already weak because of age or ongoing illness.
In Pennsylvania last flu season, six of the 256 deaths involved children. Most people who get the flu recover within a week or two with no need for hospitalization.
Still, the fatal potential of the flu may have been on display within the past week in the death of 26-year-old conservative journalist Bre Payton in California. She died in intensive care after being found unconscious by a friend. The friend later said on social media that doctors believe Payton had the flu and possibly meningitis, an inflammation of the brain which can be a complication of the flu.
Even though the flu season has begun, doctors still recommend a flu shot for people who haven’t had one for this season. The sooner someone gets the shot the better, since it can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to become effective.
While it’s possible for someone who got a shot to still get the flu, doctors believe people who have had a shot often don’t get as sick. Also, the flu vaccine can prevent you from carrying the flu to someone who might be more vulnerable to severe illness or death, such as an elderly person, according to doctors.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health will release its next update on flu cases in the state on Wednesday.
Nationally, the CDC was reporting high levels of flu cases in nine states and New York City. Flu activity in Pennsylvania was considered low as of Dec. 22; however, high levels were occurring in two surrounding states, Maryland and New Jersey.