Flu season has arrived in Centre County. What to expect and how to protect yourself

Do your part to stop the spread of flu at home

What actions—apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine—can you take to help slow the spread of illnesses like the flu?
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What actions—apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine—can you take to help slow the spread of illnesses like the flu?

After a slow start, flu season is upon us.

This season, according to Tessa Folino, infection prevention and control nurse at Mount Nittany Medical Center, the predominant flu strain in Pennsylvania and nationwide is H1N1, the strain that caused the “swine flu” pandemic in 2009.

As in the 2009 outbreak, people who come down with H1N1 may find themselves with more severe illness and at greater risk of hospitalization.

In Centre County, “we are seeing cases, but nothing of high concern,” Folino said. “Again, this is still early in the flu season and it’s hard to predict the peak.”

Dr. Dominic Dematteo, a Geisinger family practice physician, said this flu season he is predominantly seeing Influenza Type A, which includes many different strains, one of which is swine flu.

“There’s different strains (of influenza type A), the vaccine we’re looking for ... the vaccine contains a protectant against the H1N1 and the H3N2, but we have seen H1N1, yes,” he said.

Symptoms of the flu include: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. Not all cases of the flu will have fever, Folino said.

As the virus worsens, Dematteo said, it can progress to more severe symptoms like shortness of breath and pneumonia.

As of Dec. 29, there were 77 confirmed cases of the flu in Centre County, according to data based on the number of positive flu tests submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. There are typically about 600,000 to 2.4 million Pennsylvanians who get the flu every year, according to the PADOH.

Flu season typically lasts from October to May. The peak of the season usually occurs between December and March, said Dematteo.

This flu season, eight Pennsylvanians have died of complications from the flu, most over the age of 50. So far, there are no reports of pediatric flu deaths in Pennsylvania, according to PADOH.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people who have the flu stay home and avoid contact with others except to seek medical care. A person with the flu will be contagious from one day before symptoms begin and five to seven days after illness begins.

Most people who come down with the flu have mild illness and don’t need medical care or antiviral drugs, according to the CDC. But, if you are showing symptoms and are part of a high-risk group, like young children, pregnant women, people 65 years and older, and those with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease, the CDC recommends that you get antiviral treatment as soon as possible.

As with most flu seasons, “the flu shot is your best defense,” Folino said. Flu shots help your immune system create antibodies to fight flu strains, she said. Later in the flu season, if you’re exposed to the same strains, the antibodies will fight off the virus.

It’s just as important to get your flu shot this season as it has been every other season, said Dematteo.

There is still time to get the flu shot, said Folino. It can take up to two weeks for a person’s body to develop the antibodies against the virus, so the sooner you get one, the better, she said.

“The good news is that this year’s flu vaccine appears to be a good match to the predominantly circulating strains, meaning it has a greater chance of being effective against this year’s flu,” she said.