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3 People In Allegheny County Have Died From Complications Of The Flu This Season

This flu season has been particularly severe, with the Allegheny County Health Department reporting that last week three people died from flu complications; 260 people have been hospitalized. 

The University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. Richard Zimmerman directs one of five sites that measure the effectiveness of the vaccine for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said most of the flu cases are from H3N2, which is a more deadly strain of the virus.

“It has a higher mutation rate in the virus, and a higher case fatality rate, high hospitalizations,” he said. “So it’s a bad actor.”

Zimmerman added it’s harder to make an effective vaccine against H3N2, which is likely part of the reason why so many people have been sick.

The county health department is still encouraging people to get the vaccine, because while it isn’t preventing as much sickness as last year, it is still helpful. Department head Dr. Karen Hacker said that people should get vaccinated not only to protect themselves, but also others who have weaker immune systems. According to Hacker, the three people who died all had compromised immune systems. 

“They were all individuals who are over the age of 60 and older,” said Hacker. “All of them had underlying chronic medical conditions, such as respiratory problems, diabetes, heart disease.”

Dianne Duursma of Franklin Park, who can’t have vaccines due to an egg allergy, said she's just getting over the flu.

“I had a fever of 102.7 with full body aches, and chills,” she said. “I lost 11 pounds…in eight days.”

After about a week of bed rest and taking Tamiflu, Duursma said she’s mostly recovered.

“I’m not a whimp…my pain tolerance is pretty high, but at one time I was under six blankets and I couldn’t get warm,” she said. “The body chills were pretty intense….I was just in so much pain.”

Dr. Marc Itskowitz, an internal medicine physician at Allegheny Health General Hospital, said the cold weather driving people indoors may have escalated the flu's spread. 

“When you have a large amount of people clustering inside, that is a recipe for flu transmission,” he said.

Based on his clinical experience, Itskowitz said this flu season will probably be winding down soon, as he believes right now the county is at or close to the peak level activity.

In the meantime public health officials remind people to wash their hands and to stay home if they’re feeling sick.

Photo credit: Government of Alberta/Flickr

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.