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Butler County has the third-highest number of flu cases of any county in the state, which some health officials say foretells a rough flu season.

There have been 121 verified cases of the flu reported in the county this season, according to statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Only Blair County, with 189 cases, and Allegheny County, with 159 cases, had more reports of the flu. The health department classifies flu activity as widespread across the state.

“We are probably on the cusp of an upswing,” said Dr. Thomas McGill, an infectious disease specialist with the Butler Health System.

Department of Health officials are reluctant to read a lot into the statistics.

“There is really no rhyme or reason. The numbers in one location could be due to more testing or reporting. Or people could be getting the flu earlier,” said Holly Senior, a spokeswoman for the department.

Flu season typically peaks in late January or early February, she said. Also, the state's numbers do not present a total picture, Senior said.

“Our numbers are really only a fraction of what is going on in the Commonwealth. Some people don't go to the doctor at all when they are sick, and not everyone who goes to a doctor gets tested,” she said.

McGill said a number of the cases initially reported in Butler County turned out to be false positives.

The hospital system uses two tests. The first is an antigen test to spot antibodies. It is followed by a culture, which McGill said is more accurate but slower.

“Many of the people who tested positive on the first test did not test positive for the flu on the culture test. They turned out not to have the flu,” he said.

The H1N1 strain of the flu, which reappeared for the first time in Butler County since causing a pandemic in 2009, is of some concern, McGill said.

“H1N1 disproportionately affects younger adults, and younger adults are the group least likely to get vaccinated,” he said.

This year's vaccine is effective in preventing H1N1, and it's not too late to get a flu shot, he said.

There are fewer flu cases in Pennsylvania than there were at this time last season. There are 2,180 reported cases statewide. There were 7,180 cases at this time last winter. The number of flu cases can vary widely from year to year. In the 2012-13 flu season, there were 40,000 reported flu cases in Pennsylvania. The season before, there were 3,000 cases.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at [email protected].

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