A warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that this could be a bad flu season in the United States and reports of an increase in cases in western Pennsylvania are reasons for area residents to get their influenza vaccinations quickly.
Federal health officials reported on Monday that five southern states have seen a jump in suspected flu cases, and the main influenza strain this year often makes people sicker than others. The strain also is particularly hard on the elderly.
While the worst outbreaks have been in the South, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has raised its flu outlook from sporadic to regional after seeing a jump of reports in the western half of the state.
There now have been flu cases reported in 53 of 67 counties in the state, with Bedford County being the only exception in our region.
Sixteen people in the state were hospitalized last week because of the flu, the state Health Department website reports.
The state Health Department also reported that Clearfield, Allegheny and Cumberland counties saw above-normal emergency department visits last week because of the flu.
|Here are the cumulative totals of laboratory-positive flu cases for area counties from Oct. 2 through the last two weeks. Only a fraction of total flu cases are confirmed by lab tests.|
|Week ending||Nov. 24||Dec. 1|
|Source: Pennsylvania Department of Health|
The good news is that this year's flu vaccine seems to target the strains seen so far, the CDC said. About a third of Americans already have been vaccinated.
It's not too late to get a flu shot, which can be obtained at doctors' offices and numerous pharmacies. It takes about two weeks after getting the injection for the flu antibodies to build up to be effective.
And while it's possible for someone to get the flu even with the vaccination, the shot tends to ease the severity of the symptoms.
This is National Influenza Vaccination Week, and we encourage area residents, particularly those in high risk categories - such as those over age 65 or younger than 5, pregnant women and anyone with chronic medical conditions - to get their flu shot. Federal officials encourage flu shots for anyone over 6 months of age.
Both statewide and nationally, the flu seems to be arriving earlier than normal. While no one knows whether this influenza season will be worse than normal, it's a good idea to get a flu shot just in case.