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Person under 50 among new Pennsylvania flu deaths, health department reports

Valley News-Dispatch - 1/7/2020

Jan. 7--Pennsylvania's influenza epidemic claimed four more lives in the past week, including the first person under the age of 50, according to data released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The number of laboratory-confirmed cases and flu-related hospitalizations also surged over the past week, data showed.

"The flu is serious and can be deadly, which is why it is extremely important that Pennsylvanians are receiving their flu vaccine now," said state Health Secretary Rachel Levine.

Levine said there is "no better measure to protect yourself from flu than to get a flu vaccine."

Through the week ending Saturday, there have been 13 flu-associated deaths this season. One of the four new deaths involved someone between the ages of 19 and 49.

Ten of the people who died were 65 or older, while two were between the ages of 50 and 64.

No flu-associated deaths have been reported in the youngest age group, including people 18 and younger.

Department spokeswoman Brittany Lauffer said she was unable to provide further information regarding the deaths, including where the people who died lived, "in order to protect patient privacy."

There was a 79% increase in flu-associated hospitalizations statewide over the past week, from 267 to 477, data showed.

The total number of laboratory-confirmed flu cases in the state increased by 46% to 25,362. Confirmed reports have been received from 66 of the state's 67 counties, with Forest County being the only one with no confirmed cases.

In the seven-county Pittsburgh area, confirmed flu cases surged by 30%, from 7,625 to 9,890. The area accounts for nearly 40% of the state's total cases.

Allegheny County continues to lead the state in total cases with 5,174, a 26% increase from the week ending Dec. 28. About 20% of the state's total cases are in Allegheny County.

In the Pittsburgh area, Butler County saw the largest percentage increase, 65%, from 207 cases to 341.

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The Health Department and Penn State Health will be providing free flu vaccines at the department's booth during the Pennsylvania Farm Show, which began Saturday and runs through Jan. 11 in Harrisburg.

"If you are not able to attend the farm show, you can obtain your flu vaccine at your doctor's office, pharmacy, local walk-in clinic or grocery store," Levine said.

Levine said the flu vaccine can often diminish the severity of symptoms a person might experience should they come down with the flu. The vaccine is available as a shot or nasal spray.

It takes about two weeks for the antibodies from the vaccine to develop protection against infection.

Flu symptoms include fever, headache, tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and body aches.

In addition to getting vaccinated, residents are encouraged to practice healthy habits like covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, frequently washing hands and remembering to disinfect commonly touched objects such as door knobs, light switches, countertops, cellphones and computers.

Those who become sick with the flu are advised to stay home and rest. Those who feel extremely ill or are at risk for developing serious complications from the flu should see a medical professional. immediately.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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