Health officials urge locals to vaccinate amidst flu spike

FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018 file photo, Ana Martinez, a medical assistant at the Sea Mar Community Health Center, gives a patient a flu shot in Seattle. This year’s U.S. flu season got off to an early start, and it’s been driven by a nasty type of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths than other common flu bugs. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The number of confirmed influenza cases throughout Pennsylvania has nearly doubled over the past two weeks, but local health officials say it hasn’t hit Lycoming County as hard as in other areas — yet.

Since October, there have been nearly 35,500 confirmed cases and 65 deaths attributed to the flu, according to a recent statement from the state Department of Health.

Laboratory testing from UPMC Susquehanna confirms that only about 160 of those influenza cases occurred in Lycoming County throughout the same timeframe, said Heather Stafford, director of infection prevention and control for UPMC Susquehanna.

“UPMC Susquehanna has not seen the influx of inpatients associated with this year’s widespread influenza,” Stafford said.

The state department said the number of flu cases statewide increased by nearly 9,000 last week, making it one of the worst weeks for the flu

in recent years in Pennsylvania.

Though UPMC hasn’t seen as many influenza cases as elsewhere in the state, Stafford said there have been many patients with respiratory illnesses presenting flu-like symptoms. She said emergency departments systemwide are following treatment recommendations for antivirals.

“The system also is providing treatment plans for those who do test positive for influenza but are otherwise healthy, to allow them to be treated and heal from home,” Stafford added.

In order to avoid becoming another confirmed case, Stafford recommends paying closer attention to good hygiene. Scrub with soap and water for 20 seconds, or use alcohol sanitizers, she said.

“It’s the 20 seconds of quick motion between the hands that matters most, not the liquid,” she said.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth and avoid close contact with people who are sick — and quit smoking, she added.

“Nicotine decreases the ability of the tiny hairs in our nose and elsewhere to filter air and clear infection, causing colds to stick around longer in smokers,” Stafford said.

If someone does come down with the flu, she suggests staying home and avoiding contact with others except to get medical care. Rest, hydrate, use over-the-counter symptom relievers, use humidifiers and vaporizers, cough and sneeze into tissues, wash often and avoid directly touching faucet handles and door knobs, she added.

“Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs,” Stafford said. “If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are in a high-risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider. There are drugs your doctor may prescribe for treating the flu called antivirals. These drugs can make you better faster and also may prevent serious complications.”

High-risk groups include children under age 5, adults 65 and older, pregnant women and residents of longterm care facilities, she said.

Health officials statewide are calling for people to get their flu shots, which can be done at the doctor’s office or many local pharmacies and grocery stores.

“There is no vaccine available to fight all the types of viruses that can make you sick, but you can protect yourself from influenza by getting vaccinated,” Stafford said. “It is never too late to be vaccinated.”