Midstate sees unusually late peak to 2016 flu season

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YORK, Pa. (WHTM) – Flowers are blooming, the weather has gotten warmer, and cases of the flu are surging throughout the Midstate.

Hospitals throughout Central Pennsylvania are seeing a late flu season, and many of them normally don’t have any patients with the flu in April. The flu season typically peaks in late December to early February, but in the Midstate, it peaked in late March.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health says the flu activity code in the state is widespread, which is at the highest level. The state had less than 500 cases at this time last year, but about 2,500 people have the flu now. This is a 400 percent increase.

The staff at York Memorial Hospital saw almost no flu cases until March, but then lots of people started coming through the doors.

“I had to crawl up the steps one day. I had no energy,” Jeremy Grim said.

Grim just got over the flu. He missed work for an entire week and says his wife quarantined him to a room during that time.

“She’s seven months pregnant,” Grim said. “We have four kids at the house right now, so she wanted to make sure no body else got sick.”

Another person who recently got the flu is my son David.

“I felt pretty sick. I had a runny nose, a sore throat, and I had to miss a week of practice. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again next year, and hopefully I just get better,” David White said.

Midstate hospitals are seeing mostly H1N1, which is better known as the Swine Flu. This strain of the virus tends to be more intense. WellSpan York Hospital saw 71 cases of H1N1 in March 2016 compared to just eight cases in March 2015. Lancaster General Hospital saw mostly H1N1 influenza, but they are seeing more influenza B cases than normal.

Those at York Memorial Hospital say the warmer weather in the winter could have played a part in the late flu season because the virus tends to spread when people are inside together. They also say another reason could be many people got their flu shots in October.

“It is a vaccine that is short lived. It’s not like when we get immunized for measles or chicken pox like our children do that is lasts for a few years. It’s considered to be a four- to five-month vaccine,” said Annette Gillespie, infection prevention manager at York Memorial Hospital.

Doctors say you should wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before you eat.

“You should rub your hands together for at least 15 seconds. Make sure to get under your fingernails,” Gillespie said. “Avoid touching your T-Zone. That includes your eyes, nose, and mouth.”

Gillespie says people who have the flu should cough or sneeze in their elbow and not in the hands.

“Stay at home to prevent spreading the flu,” she said.

Most of the flu patients at York Memorial Hospital did not get their flu shot, and Gillespie says it’s not too late now to get it.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has seen a late peak to the 2016 flu season. Credit: PA DOH

WellSpan spokesperson Cynthia Stauffer says flu numbers have significantly increased. A nurse at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital said, “Some patients received a vaccine in September 2015, which may be too early to get the vaccine. Also, keep in mind these are only the hospital numbers. Most patients are diagnosed and treated at their doctor’s office so hospitals won’t have the highest numbers.”

March flu cases at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon have more than doubled from last year, with a 141 percent increase.

Stauffer says cases at WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital have also increased, “Compared to our March 2015 numbers, the numbers for March 2016 are up significantly. The notable difference between the years is the early start to the flu season in 2015 and the rather late (end of January) start of this year’s flu season.”

WellSpan York Hospital also saw a much later peak in the 2015 to 2016 flu season. “The difference is a reflection of the timing of the influenza season and does not indicate the severity of the season or that there are a greater number of influenza cases overall,” Stauffer said.

It’s a similar situation at Summit Health Hospitals in Chambersburg and Waynesboro.

“The numbers suggest we are experiencing a later than normal spike in flu cases this year. During the month of March, Chambersburg Hospital and Waynesboro Hospital treated about 250 patients for the flu,” Summit Health Infection Preventionist Kathy Lehman said.

ABC27 News looked at flu data from October 3, 2015 to April 2, 2016. Cumberland County has the most confirmed cases in the Midstate with 639 people. York County comes in second with 568 cases, Lancaster County came in third with 556 cases, Dauphin County had 485 cases, Franklin County had 399 cases, Lebanon County had 141 cases, Mifflin County had 136 cases, Adams County had 118 cases, Juniata County had 39 cases, and Perry County had 33 cases.Get breaking news, weather and traffic on the go. Download the ABC 27 News App and the ABC 27 Weather App for your phone or tablet.

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