2012-03-22 / Local & State

Pa. Flu Cases Drop Steeply From Last Year

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Pennsylvania is seeing a steep drop in flu cases, possibly because of the mild winter, higher vaccination rates and people taking more precautions to avoid spreading it, a newspaper reported Friday.

Through late February, the state had collected 367 positive lab tests for the flu, down from 12,309 at the same point a year ago, The Patriot-News of Harrisburg reported Friday.

In addition, the state Department of Health had received reports of 71 hospitalizations for the flu and no flu-related deaths in Pennsylvania this year. That compares to nearly 900 hospitalizations by the same time a year ago, and 47 such deaths, the newspaper said.

Health Department spokeswoman Christine Cronkright said Friday that the agency is using the same lab methods as last year. But she also pointed out that the agency has seen a slight increase in flu cases in the last several weeks, as have other areas of the country.

Flu season runs from October into April, and can peak in February or March.

“My sense is we are pretty much at the end of the flu season and I don't see where we would have a tremendous spike,” said Dr. Thomas Weida, a family doctor at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Weida and other physicians said the drop could be related to higher vaccination rates stemming from the swine flu spread, greater flu vaccine availability, the mild winter and more public awareness of how to prevent from spreading it, such as washing hands frequently or staying home from school or work when sick.

But some doctors also said they are also concerned that the receding number of flu cases will make people lose their fear of the flu.

“The bottom line is you want to get a flu shot every season,” said Dr. Theresa Benchoff of the Patient First clinic in suburban Harrisburg.

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