By Jack Firneno
Wire Staff Writer
It’s been another rough flu season so far for Pennsylvania.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 2,180 cases of the flu have been reported so far. Infections are now considered “widespread” in the state, based on the level of influenza activity across the state. More than 1,000 new cases were reported the week of Dec. 28, nearly double that of the week before.
The health department follows numbers on the flu season from October through May each year. While the majority of cases are usually reported in the first few months of the season, the department doesn’t foresee any relief in the near future.
“Flu activity has been picking up in the state, but we still have not peaked, which means we still have plenty of activity ahead of us,” Secretary of Health Michael Wolf said in a release last week.
So far, Montgomery County has reported 72 cases in all, surpassing Philadelphia’s 63 cases and Delaware County’s 65 reports. Nearby Bucks County has significantly less with 21 cases, under the average for the state but still well ahead of many other counties with less than 10 cases each.
The largest concentrations of cases exist in western Pennsylvania, with Allegheny County and Butler County reporting 159 and 189 cases, respectively.
These numbers, however, still represent only a fraction of flu cases, as they don’t include people who are sick but don’t get tested for influenza.
A flu shot is still the best way to prevent infection, even this far into flu season. “At this time, flu-related illness in Pennsylvania is well-matched to this year’s vaccine,” said Aimee Tysarczyk, press secretary for the health department, in an email..
Vaccination is especially important for at-risk demographics including young children, pregnant women and senior citizens.
According to Tysarczyk, the best time to get vaccinated is now, before the season gets even worse: “We often don’t peak until late January or early February. Because the vaccine takes about 10 days to two weeks to become fully effective, it’s critical to get one soon ahead of the peak.”
Ways to beat the flu season
The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, but good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu. There also are flu antiviral drugs that can be used to treat and prevent the flu.
1. Avoid close contact.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
2. Stay home when you are sick.
If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
3. Cover your mouth and nose.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
4. Clean your hands.
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
6. Practice other good health habits.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.