WILKES-BARRE – Reported flu cases have spiked in recent weeks, but state and local health officials say there is still time to get vaccinated.
The state Department of Health reported Wednesday there has been a significant rise in influenza activity across Pennsylvania since Thanksgiving.
The department said flu activity has increased from sporadic to widespread throughout the state, meaning at least half of the state's regions are experiencing outbreaks of influenza or increases in influenza-like illness.
According to a release from the health department, the flu made an earlier appearance this year, as widespread activity is usually not seen until January.
The number of cases reported to the state more than doubled in the past week. Luzerne County saw a spike in cases recently, going from 10 total cases to 18 reported in one week.
Ted Kross, health director for the city, said his office at the Kirby Health Center has a limited supply of vaccine donated by Sanofi Pasteur and the state Department of Health. He said his office has high-dose influenza vaccine for those 65 and older; the new intra-dermal for 18 to 64 years of age; flu mist (nasal), 2 years to 18 years old; and pediatric influenza vaccine, 6 months to 35 months of age.
It is an opportune time to get the flu vaccine as we will be spending time with family and friends through the holiday season, Kross said. Flu is an airborne virus that is spread easily through coughing, sneezing and contact with infected individuals.
Kross said recent research shows the influenza vaccines have approximately a 59 percent to 76 percent effectiveness rate. He said good hand-washing and coughing/sneezing etiquette is essential to decrease the spread of the flu virus.
If you decided to wait, now is the perfect time to get vaccinated against the flu, Acting Secretary of Health Michael Wolf said. Ensuring that you and your family get vaccinated will reduce the chance that your holiday plans will be affected from the flu.
The state said the flu strains causing illness in Pennsylvania appear to be well matched to this year's vaccine.
The Department of Health recommends the flu vaccine for everyone over the age of 6 months. But the vaccine is especially important for the elderly, pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions that place them at increased risk of complications from the flu.
It takes 10 to 14 days to obtain the full protective benefit from the flu vaccine, officials said.
Jim McGuire, spokesman for Wyoming Valley Healthcare System, said Wilkes-Barre General Hospital has had a number of patients with flu symptoms in the emergency department but has not had any inpatient admissions due to flu.
At Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township, Matthew Van Stone said the facility has not seen a dramatic increase in flu cases.
• The Wilkes-Barre City Health Department will hold a walk-in flu clinic Friday, 2 to 4 p.m., at the Kirby Health Center, 71 N. Franklin St. The clinic is open to the public. Call 208-4268 for more information.
In addition to getting vaccinated, everyone should take common sense precautions to keep from spreading the flu. These include:
• Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
• Stay at home when ill.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can also be used when soap and water are not handy.
• Clean and disinfect high-use surfaces, especially if someone has been coughing or sneezing.