Flu season 'ramps up' in York County

The flu season is "ramping up," but there's still time to get a vaccine, health professionals say.

As January approaches, so does flu season — and it could be a tough year.

"We are currently really ramping up," said Dr. Marijka Grey, regional medical director with the WellSpan Medical Group.

The flu was recently categorized as "widespread" in Pennsylvania, with 136 confirmed cases of Influenza A and 14 cases of Influenza B, she said. York City saw about 40 cases of the flu in December, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health's National Electronic Disease Surveillance System, a statewide registry of about 100 reportable diseases.

Those numbers are based on diagnoses from doctor's offices, but "there are an awful lot of people who don’t see a doctor," said Debbie Stoops, a registered nurse at York City Bureau of Health, suggesting the number could be higher.

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Cases have been increasing over the past month, and Grey said though increases are typical during the season, they are coming in a little earlier this year.

She said she expects the season to hit its peak in February — on track with last year.

It's normal to have an increase in December, Stoops said, which generally continues to build through January and February.

This year, the influenza vaccine was developed before a strain of Influenza A mutated, so Grey said the vaccine will only be about 10 percent effective against the virus.

But it is still better to get the vaccine than not, Grey said. It takes two weeks to go into effect, but there's still time before the peak season arrives, she added.

Stoops said the vaccine is not an "exact match" but would still provide some protection depending on the strain, and it could make flu symptoms less severe. 

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"People often think of it as a bad cold," Grey said, but influenza can lead to death.

She said there have already been three flu-related deaths in Pennsylvania this season.

Babies, children and adults age 65 and older are particularly vulnerable, Grey said.

She emphasized the importance of visiting an urgent care center or seeing a regular physician within the first 48 hours of symptoms to receive the antiviral medication.

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Flu symptoms include a high fever of 102 to 104 degrees, a headache, severe aches and pains, fatigue, exhaustion and a cough, Stoops said.

Stoops said her best recommendation is washing hands as much as possible and staying home if sick.

"So many people tend to feel that they have to go to work no matter what," she said. "If you’re sick, you’re contagious and you are spreading the flu."