Last updated: February 20. 2013 3:05AM - 761 Views

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Luzerne County ranks eighth for the most number of influenza cases in the state from Oct. 2 to Jan. 12, according to the most recent statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The department reported 625 influenza cases in the county, including one death in Wilkes-Barre, during the influenza outbreak. Information on when that occurred was not available Monday.

Statewide, 40 deaths have been linked to influenza, including 34 people 65 years and older.

Of the state's 67 counties, those with more flu cases than Luzerne County are: Allegheny, 1,249; Northampton, 877; Lehigh, 826; Montgomery, 799; Lancaster, 729; Westmoreland, 700; and Berks, 646.

The number of cases from nearby counties include: Schuylkill, 250; Lackawanna, 160; Carbon, 144; Monroe,134; Wyoming, 44; and Sullivan,13.

Because of the outbreak, which authorities said is the worst in a decade, the city of Wilkes-Barre has been scheduling additional flu clinics. On Friday 300 vaccines were given, and another clinic will be set this week.

Despite the benefits of a flu shot, federal government research shows only about 37 percent of the overall U.S. population has received the flu vaccine to date. That number is expected to rise slightly as the flu season gets progressively worse this winter. Hospitals also are restricting visitors, and employers are taking extensive precautions.

Geisinger Health System and others have said it is a misconception that people can contract the flu from the vaccine. Geisinger requires employees to get vaccinated for the flu or wear a mask while on of its campuses.

The Associated Press reported Monday the number of older people hospitalized with the flu has risen sharply, prompting federal officials to take unusual steps to make more flu medicines available and to urge wider use of them as soon as symptoms appear.

The United States is about halfway through this flu season, and it's shaping up to be a worse-than-average season and a bad one for the elderly, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New figures from the CDC show widespread flu activity in all states but Tennessee and Hawaii. Some parts of the country are seeing an increase in flu activity while overall activity is beginning to go down, Frieden said. Flu activity is high in 30 states and New York City, up from 24 the previous week.

We expect to see both the number and the rates of both hospitalizations and deaths rise further in the next week or so as the flu epidemic progresses, so prompt treatment is key to preventing deaths, he said.

About 90 percent of flu deaths are in the elderly; the very young and people with other health problems, such as diabetes, are also at higher risk.

Last week, the CDC said the flu again surpassed an epidemic threshold, based on monitoring of deaths from flu and a frequent complication, pneumonia. The flu epidemic happens every year, and officials say this year's vaccine is a good match for strains that are going around.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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