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91 people dead from flu so far in Pa., and the season has yet to hit its peak

Written by Abbey Zelko/The York Daily Record | Feb 9, 2018 6:52 PM
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A health care worker administers a shot during a whooping cough clinic Friday, November 11, 2016 at Chambersburg Area Senior High School. (Photo: Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion)

(Undated) -- At 91 flu-related deaths already in Pennsylvania - compared to about 50 this time last year - this flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst in the state in the last eight years, according to the state Department of Health.

And, we're only halfway through the season.

According to Dr. Rachel Levine, acting secretary of health and physician general for the Commonwealth of Pa., flu season has yet to hit its peak in Pennsylvania.

"I don't know when that will happen," Levine said. "We're still continuing to see significant rates of the flu."

The number of cases across the state is trending to be higher than the past eight years, according to Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesman Nate Wardle.

"We know it will be the worst peak we've seen in the last eight years," he said. "It is a very severe season."

While it looks like the rate of increase might have started slowing down, Levine said, the flu continues to be very significant throughout the country, particularly on the east coast.

Just within the last week, 10,552 new cases and 26 flu-associated deaths were reported in Pennsylvania, she said.

On the west coast, numbers have started to decline, which is a good sign for Pennsylvania since flu season tends to spread west to east, Levine said. Already, the southwestern part of the state looks like it may have hit its peak.

Though there are still about 15 weeks left in flu season, most of the remaining cases are expected through February and March, according to Wardle.

"So, we still have a ways to go," he said.

Since flu season started in October, 47,752 cases have been reported in Pennsylvania, according to the Department of Health.

In the southcentral part of the state, the following number of cases have been reported:

  • Adams - 477
  • Franklin - 733
  • Lancaster - 1,555
  • Lebanon - 539
  • York - 2,280

York County has the third highest number of cases in the state behind Allegheny with nearly 6,300 and Northampton with more than 2,300.

Those numbers have proved challenging for local hospitals, which have had to change procedures to handle not only a high volume of patients but also a high-severity illness.

"We've had a lot of serious cases," said Dr. David Lee, director of emergency medicine at WellSpan York Hospital. "They're sicker than what they were last year."

Lee said the reason the hospital has seen so many more confirmed cases - nearly 400 more in January compared to the same month last year - is partly because this strain of the flu, H3N2, is much more severe.

Previous H3N2 seasons in 2012-13 and 2014-15 saw 200 or more deaths in Pennsylvania - the highest numbers reported in the state in the last eight years, according to the Department of Health.

Multiple York Hospital patients have died from flu-related illnesses this year, Lee said, including at least one child who was transferred to another facility for a higher level of care.

"Typically, the flu doesn't kill you," Lee said. "It knocks your immune system, and a secondary infection comes in. We are finding a lot of patients that have the flu and a secondary infection."

But the good news is York Hospital is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The first week in February has been less busy than the first week in January, Lee said.

January was also a busy month for UPMC Pinnacle, which reported seeing more than three times as many patients with the flu at Memorial Hospital and more than six times as many patients at its Hanover facility in January 2018 compared to January 2017.

"I don't think the flu season has gone away," Lee said. "There has been some suggestion in the media ... there might be a second peak later on. I have my fingers crossed that won't happen and the flu will slowly ebb away."

To prevent further spreading of the flu:

  • Get your flu vaccination. It's not too late!
  • Cover your mouth and nose.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Keep your surfaces clean.
  • If you're sick, stay home.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record. 

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