Flu season worsens into the New Year

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Flu season kicked into high gear during the first week of January, already on track to be the worst flu season since 2009-10 and the second worst in the past seven years.


The state Department of Health reported 18 deaths during the first week of January, increasing the total number of deaths to 22 in the state.


Washington County reported 313 cases of the flu and Greene County reported 88 to the Department of Health during the first week of the year. Hospitalizations increased by 243 compared to the final week of 2012, jumping from 244 to 487.


The report showed 4,256 cases of the flu across Pennsylvania. The flu has posed such a problem in the state that Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown opened a “mobile surge tent” Tuesday outside the emergency room to help with overcrowding.


Data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health found 7.8 percent of doctor visits to be flu related, well above the baseline of 2.4 percent.


The Centers for Disease reported widespread flu activity in 42 states, including Pennsylvania, and regional flu activity, the second highest level of activity, in seven of the remaining eight states.


The A/H3N2 strain caused most of the activity, a strain deadly to elderly, and the median age of hospitalization is about 67 years old.


The Department of Health develops a new flu vaccine annually, basing the three-strain vaccination on projections of the strains most likely to emerge during flu season. Dr. Stephen Heirendt of Canonsburg General Hospital in Canonsburg said the CDC accurately predicted the vaccination this year, but people not receiving the flu shot felt the impact.


At Canonsburg General, Heirendt noted an increase in the number of patients but believed the hospital effectively handled the influx of flu victims.


“We’ve been handling it pretty well,” Heirendt said. “We haven’t seen it as bad as some other health facilities. There’s been a definite increase in the number of people coming in, especially with the respiratory problems, coming in with the fevers and the achiness, but we’ve handled it pretty well so far.”


Heirendt said the hospital focused mainly on infant and elderly patients, the age groups most at risk to complications from the flu, and suggested patients with the flu help contain the spread of the virus and take good care.


“There’s really no specific treatment (for the flu) other than reducing the spread and supportive self-care,” Heirendt said.


Dr. Mark Henzes of the Southwest Regional Medical Center in Waynesburg recommended individuals experiencing high fever, body aches, coughing and a sore throat to visit a family physician or a nearby emergency room as a secondary option.


Both doctors recommended staying away from flu victims to prevent catching the flu by keeping up with good hygiene, staying hydrated and eating a vitamin-rich diet and keeping warm in the cold weather.


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