Flu season in full swing

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Although flu season is already in full swing, and the virus widespread, health officials are still adamant about you getting a flu vaccination.

Tracy Stieglitz, the infection control manager at Washington Health System, said 16 cases of influenza have been confirmed within the last two weeks.

“Prior to that, we only had one confirmed case,” she said last week. “We have become busy. People need to get their flu vaccination. It’s still not too late.”

Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a virus that can last for up to seven days and includes symptoms like fever, cough, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. The Pennsylvania Department of Health said there are three types of the flu, A, B and C, and that A and B cause respiratory illnesses. Flu season spans several months; it starts in October and lasts until March of the following year.

While Washington Health System has seen a steady increase in cases building since Dec. 16, Mary Kaufman, a communication specialist for the Monongahela Valley Hospital, said the number of cases are down from last year.

“Last year we had 783 cases,” Kaufman said. “So far this year, we have seen 72 cases over the last three months. The numbers are down significantly from last year.”

But things are quickly starting to catch up. Mon Valley Hospital emergency department medical director Dr. Brenda Walther said 72 cases is still high for this time of year, and predicts the numbers will peak in mid-January.

“The number of cases have really picked up since Dec. 1,” Kaufman said. “People are indoors now more with the weather.”

Both women said a wide range of age groups are being affected this year. Kaufman said doctors have seen the majority of flu cases in people between the ages of 20 and 50. Stieglitz said they’ve seen cases in children as young as a few months and in people as old as 75.

“Really, it’s still not too late to get a flu shot,” Kaufman said.

According to the most recent data provided by the state Department of Health, 66 confirmed flu cases have been reported in Washington County. Nine confirmed flu cases have been reported in Greene County. The majority of cases for both counties are categorized as influenza A, which encompasses the H1N1 strain.

Aimee Tysarczyk, press secretary for the Department of Health, said the majority of the cases across the state have been H1N1, and that the flu is now widespread. H1N1, also known as the swine flu, caused a widespread pandemic in 2009. The virus caused roughly 17,000 deaths by the start of 2010.

In addition to a flu shot, which you can get by seeing your primary care physician or at an area pharmacy, health officials also recommend regularly washing your hands and covering your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing to prevent spreading or contracting the virus. Anyone six months and older is encouraged to get a flu vaccination.

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