Flu Becomes a Big Concern for Pennsylvania

Shannon Turgeon, News Editor

The flu is taking over Pennsylvania, and it appears that 2012-2013 could be one of the worst seasons the state has experienced in years.

According to an article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, there were more confirmed cases of influenza in the last week of December than there were during last year’s entire flu season. David A. Nace, a flu program manager at UPMC, said that the flu season increased in the beginning of December this year, which is earlier than usual. “The flu virus keeps everyone off-guard at all times. That’s its job in life. He who tries to predict the flu season is considered a fool,” Nace stated.

726 of the 7,181 confirmed flu cases in Pennsylvania have occurred in Allegheny County this year. Dr. Thomas Campbell, the chairman of emergency medicine at West Penn Allegheny Health System, stated that many doctors are predicting an increase in flu cases over the next few weeks. “It’s hard to say what next week will bring, so maybe it’s not the worst. But [the amount of flu cases] seems higher than I remember from last year,” Campbell told the Tribune-Review.

Pennsylvania hospitals and emergency rooms have quickly become overcrowded from the increased amount of sick people. Data from Dr. Ronald Vorhees, the acting director at the Allegheny County Health Department, shows that more than 6 percent of E.R. visits in Allegheny County are from people presenting with flu-like symptoms.

Some hospitals have been forced to take drastic measures to deal with the amount of ill individuals. According to a video from ABC News, some emergency rooms in large cities have begun to divert people to different hospitals due to severe overcrowding. Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, PA has resorted to treating patients with mild flu symptoms in tents outside of the building. A nurse from the hospital told WTAE that this measure was taken because the emergency room was over capacity.

There have been twenty-two deaths caused by the flu this year in Pennsylvania, according to the PA Department of Health website. As the flu season continues, it is likely that the number of deaths will continue to climb.  Holli Senior, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, warned that “we have not peaked this year. We’re still on our way up. We anticipate seeing a lot more cases in the coming weeks.”

Doctors have been urging the public to get the flu vaccine if they haven’t had one yet. According to Senior, it isn’t too late to get vaccinated. “Vaccination is the single most important way to protect yourself against influenza. It protects not only yourself, but those around you,” she told the Tribune-Review. Senior explained that there is a large supply of the vaccine, and it is effective against this year’s flu strain. Vorhees also emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated, stating that “The longer you wait [to get vaccinated], the less likely it is to be helpful.”

Fortunately, there are measures that can be taken to prevent the flu. The Centers for Disease Control website provides a three-step plan to help fight influenza viruses. The first step is to get vaccinated. The CDC recommends that “everyone six months of age and older should get a flu vaccine as soon as possible.” The CDC then suggests that people should take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs, such as frequent hand-washing and avoiding contact with sick people. Finally, the last step is to take flu antiviral drugs if they have been prescribed by a doctor. This medicine can make the flu milder and can shorten the amount of time that a patient spends being sick.

The CDC has been urging the public to get the flu vaccine, which is shown above.Photo courtesy of the Associated Press
The CDC has been urging the public to get the flu vaccine, which is shown above.
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press