Flu not so bad, unless you have it

The 2012-2013 flu season was one of the worst in recent history.

For this year, doctors and health agencies focused on awareness of the value of the flu vaccine.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has declared influenza “widespread” in the state for the week ending Feb. 1. The “widespread” term indicates outbreaks of confirmed flu in at least half of the regions of the state.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared the flu season “moderate to severe.”

“Influenza is currently widespread throughout Pennsylvania,” said Holli Summerville, Warren General Hospital’s director of patient and public relations. “The Warren community has seen a significant amount of influenza and influenza-like illness (ILI) through the physician offices and the Emergency Care Center.”

“A few patients have required hospital admission. Warren General Hospital has had 54 laboratory confirmed cases through February 1,” Summerville said.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, all of those 54 are from the influenza A strain.

There is good news.

“It’s not as bad as it could have been,” Dr. David McConnell of Warren Pediatric Associates said on Tuesday. “We have had very few kids who were sick to the point where they need to be in the hospital.”

“Most people have been responding to home care – plenty of liquids, Tylenol, plenty of rest,” McConnell said.

An increase in the number of people receiving vaccinations may be responsible for the improvement over last year.

“We did have more people getting the flu vaccine this year,” McConnell said. In fact, the office ran out of its supply.

“Every year we order more hoping more people will get it,” he added.

With infants under six months of age unable to be vaccinated, doctors stress the importance of creating a cocoon “to cut down on the exposure of those who are most at risk,” he said. “There’s been a lot of publicity about getting everybody covered. To protect the babies it’s really important everybody else in the family is protected.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) reviews data from a worldwide network of influenza laboratories to make a recommendation as to which strains of the flu virus should be covered in the vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The U.S. Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee considers the WHO recommendations and makes a final decision regarding composition of seasonal flu vaccine for the United States.”

There are three strains in this year’s vaccine – two of influenza A, including H1N1, and one of influenza B. A vaccine with two each of A and B strains was developed this year. The release of that vaccine was limited and none of it was delivered to Warren Pediatrics.

“The vaccine appears to be well matched with what we are seeing circulate,” Pennsylvania Department of Health Deputy Press Secretary Holli Senior said. “Approximately 95 percent of what we are seeing circulate in Pennsylvania is H1N1 and this strain is covered in the vaccine.”

Information about the flu season and vaccine is available at the Department of Health’s Flu website, www.flufreepa.com.

“We believe we have peaked in Pennsylvania but will need to ensure there is a consistent decline in the number of cases being reported over the next couple of weeks,” she said. While the flu season is nearing its end, “it’s not too late to get vaccinated.”

“It is not too late to get the flu vaccine,” Warren General Hospital Infection Prevention Nurse Betsy Williams said. “Influenza often continues through March and vaccination is the best way to prevent illness.”