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Influenza outbreak widespread in Pennsylvania

Influenza activity has increased substantially in Pennsylvania that it is now characterized as "widespread" in all regions of the Commonwealth, says the PA Dept of Health.  Current data also suggests that this season's influenza activity has not yet peaked.

In an advisory newsletter Pa's Dept of Health said that since the beginning of December of 2012, a total of 6,966 laboratory cases in PA have tested positive for influenza, which includes 439 hospitalizations and 4 deaths.  This number is far greater than what has been reported at this time in previous seasons.

Virologic surveillance indicates that the influenza seen this season is primarily due to influenza A/H3N2, the subtype generally associated with more severe illness and one that has a greater impact on the elderly. Influenza viruses that normally circulate in pigs are called A “variant.”  Influenza A/H3N2 is a variant virus that was detected in people in July 2011, when the CDC tracked 12 cases from July to December 2011, in Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The virus was first found in pigs in the U.S. in 2010.  Since then, over 400 residents in long term care facilities in Pennsylvania and a total of 40 outbreaks of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) have happened.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the current circulating influenza viruses are well-matched to the antigens contained in the 2012-2013 trivalent influenza vaccine cocktail prescribed for this flu season.  If there's any good news about this season's flu epidemic, it's the influenza vaccine remains widely available in our area.  Annual vaccination still remains the best method to prevent influenza and to reduce the complications from the illness.  Substantial influenza activity is expected to continue into the spring so it is still appropriate to get a flu shot and for health care administrators to continue to administer vaccine to persons who have not yet been vaccinated this season.

More then 80% of the respiratory samples submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Laboratories are now testing positive for influenza, which means influenza should be considered as the likely cause of illness in persons presenting with ILI (influenza-like illnesses). Non-flu viruses including RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), adenovirus and human rhinovirus are also co-circulating with influenza at lower levels. This pattern is very likely to continue for the remainder of the flu season.

The latest information from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) calls for the “Take 3” Actions To Fight The Flu

1. Take time to get a flu vaccine.
 • CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine.
 • Flu vaccine protects against the three viruses
 • Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine
 • Vaccination of high risk persons is especially important
 • People at high risk of serious flu complications include
    - young children
    - pregnant women
    - people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease
    - people 65 years and older.
 • Children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu illness,

     but are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for them should be vaccinated instead.

2. Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs.
 • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
 • Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub
 • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
 • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
 • If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone
 • While sick, limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

3. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them
 • Flu-like symptoms include:
     - fever
     - cough
     - sore throat
     - runny or stuffy nose
     - body aches
     - headache
     - chills and fatigue
     - Some may also have vomiting and diarrhea
     - People may be infected with the flu, and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.
 • If you get the flu, antiviral drugs can treat your illness.
 • Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics. They are prescription medicines
 • Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick.
 • For people with high risk factors  [702 KB, 2 pages], treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the

     difference between having a milder illness versus a very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.
 • Flu antiviral drugs work best when started within 2 days of getting sick

PA's Department of Health flu tip asks "Got 20 seconds?"  Washing and keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs and flu and colds this winter season.  Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds to protect yourself from germs and avoid spreading them to others.

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