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Flu cases finally dropping in Western Pennsylvania

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Allegheny County Health Department pharmacy chief Nancy Caracciolo shows off the flu vaccine Friday September 7, 2012 inside a cooler in the department's facility in Lawrenceville. James Knox | Tribune-Review
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Pennsylvania Health Department
Pennsylvania Health Department flu statistics.
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AFP/Getty Images
A flu vaccination.

The fierce flu season may have finally peaked in Western Pennsylvania and across the state.

At the very least, it has plateaued.

“I hope we have peaked,” said Dr. Marc Itskowitz, an Allegheny Health Network internal medicine physician. “This is the first time in eight weeks we’ve seen less cases. That’s good news.”

Like in much of the country, the flu hit Pennsylvania hard this season.

The state Department of Health said Allegheny County has had 8,498 flu cases this year, the highest in the state. By comparison, Westmoreland has had 2,361 cases; Washington, 1,775 cases; and Butler, 977 cases.

There have been 74,247 flu cases throughout the state and 135 deaths, including two pediatric cases. Most of the flu deaths — 106 — have been people 65 and older, the state said.

The Allegheny County Health Department said it has been notified of three more county residents who died of flu symptoms in the past month: One male resident in his late 80s died within the past month; one female resident in her mid-70s died within the past two weeks; and one female resident in her early 60s died within the past week. It is not known whether any of these people had an underlying medical condition.

Since the flu season began, 17 Alle­gheny County residents have died of flu-related causes, compared with seven flu deaths at this time a year ago.

“It’s been almost a pandemic,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert for Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a Pittsburgh physician. “Hopefully, the worst is past us.”

The main reason flu has been so widespread this year is because the H3N2 has been the most prevalent strain of the virus. It can cause more inflammation than other influenza strains, which puts extra stress on the immune system, and it takes longer to fight off.

Also, the flu vaccine, which is prepared months in advance based on flu cases reported in the Southern Hemisphere, was effective only about 35 percent of the time, officials said. The CDC, however, recommends a yearly vaccine for people six months and older.

Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC’s vice president of emergency and urgent care, said nobody should yet celebrate the end of flu season.

“But, it does look like we’re out of the woods,” he said.

The flu kills about 36,000 people a year, on average, according to the CDC. Flu activity usually begins in October and peaks between December and March.

Flu symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches, headaches and severe fatigue.

Itskowitz and Yealy agree that it’s not too late to get a flu shot.

Suzanne Elliottt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at 412-871-2346, [email protected] or via Twitter @41Suzanne.

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