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Flu activity downgraded, but Pa. not out of woods yet

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Flu season typically runs from early October through May, reports the Centers for Disease Control, which recommends people 6 months and older get annual flu vaccines.

Reported flu cases in Pennsylvania have fallen for the third consecutive week, a convincing pattern that suggests the 2014-15 flu season has probably peaked for the state, public health authorities said Tuesday.

Doctors warned a second outbreak could flare before spring, especially if a crop of dominant viruses spreads around.

“The flu viruses don’t coordinate with each other,” said Dr. Donald Yealy, the emergency medicine chairman for Downtown-based UPMC.

He estimated flu cases at UPMC emergency departments and urgent care facilities dropped by about 50 percent to 60 percent in the past few weeks.

That follows broader trends in Allegheny County, where laboratory-confirmed flu cases fell from nearly 1,000 the week of Dec. 29 to about 200 last week, according to the county health department.

“I guess I would say we’re hopeful” that the worst is over, said Dr. Karen Hacker, the county health director.

She said flu-related fatalities in the county reached 18 between Sept. 28 and Saturday, up from seven in the same period last season. Flu-related deaths statewide number 126 for the season, according to state health officials.

“There’s still a lot of flu activity occurring,” said state health spokeswoman Holli Senior, who warned that flu reports remain elevated across Pennsylvania. They showed 4,283 new flu cases last week, down from 8,128 the week of Dec. 29, although the pace of the decline has slowed.

Reported cases account for a fraction of total flu illnesses because doctors test for the virus in limited circumstances. State estimates show up to 20 percent of Pennsylvanians catch the flu each year, with most intense activity often lasting about 13 weeks and peaking in February.

Hacker said it’s not too late to get an annual flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found this year’s vaccine is about 23 percent effective in preventing illnesses that require medical attention.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Hacker said.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or [email protected].

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