Pennsylvania counts nearly 70 flu deaths as virus remains at epidemic level

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?

Centre County is seeing the height of flu season.

The eight-month season that began in October has booked “typical to high” activity, although it’s much less severe than last year’s, said Tessa Folino, infection prevention and control nurse at Mount Nittany Medical Center. The county had 1,150 confirmed cases as of Saturday, according to laboratory tests logged by the state Department of Health.

Only 13 of the state’s 67 counties had more cases since the season began. The predominant strain in the U.S. is H1N1, which caused the “swine flu” outbreak in 2009. The strain is associated with more severe illness and greater odds of hospitalization, Folino said.

While the most recent reporting week broke a nearly two-month upswing in Pennsylvania’s confirmed cases, the disease is still considered widespread and above the epidemic threshold.

“Last year was one of the highest on record. This year is tracking to be the second-highest,” state health spokeswoman April Hutcheson said.

More citizens have received an annual flu vaccination this year, due in part to last year’s intense season, Hutcheson said. The vaccine formula for this season is likely about 47 percent effective in safeguarding people against severe flu illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vaccination rates and weather conditions can affect flu case volumes, Hutcheson said.

“I still want to stress the importance of taking the utmost precautions to avoid influenza every year,” Folino said. “This includes obtaining your flu vaccination if you are able, practicing good hand hygiene and staying home when you are sick to prevent the spread of illness. Influenza can be a life-threatening illness, particularly to seniors, young children and those who are immunocompromised.”

Sixty-eight Pennsylvanians died from flu complications this season, most of them over the age of 50, according to the state health department. Eleven of those deaths were reported in the most recent week, Hutcheson said.

Flu symptoms can include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches and fatigue.

The Associated Press contributed.

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.