Pennsylvania flu season starting to ramp up

LANCASTER, P.A. --- The flu bug is making its way across the country and Pennsylvania is no different.

The commonwealth is one of 36 states currently dealing with a "widespread" outbreak of the flu virus.

Dr. Rachel Levine, Acting Secretary of Health and Physician General for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said the months of January-February are the peak periods for the flu virus to take over.

Currently, the Department of Health reports the entire state has 6,221 cases of the flu this season.

Counties experiencing the highest total of cases include Allegheny (906), Berks (455), and Northampton (332).

"In the winter months, we tend to be more inside. We tend to have a lot of contact with other people in close quarters and so that type of contact spreads the flu," said Dr. Levine.

However, Dr. Levine said the current numbers are consistent with years past.

She said this comes off of a "significant" flu season last year, in which 72,000 cases of the flu were reported.

She said it's too early to tell how this season will go.

"This is certainly not a time to panic. What we're seeing now is what we see every year," said Dr. Levine.

Dr. Joseph Kontra, Chief of Infectious Disease and Head of Infection Control Department with Lancaster General Health, said they saw the flu start to "smolder" in August.

For the last week of December, he said the number of patients with the flu started to take off.

"We here at LGH have seen just shy of 300 cases of the flu this season," said Dr. Kontra.

He said common symptoms of the flu include sudden body aches, a fever higher than 100 and respiratory problems.

He also cautioned awareness around more flu-susceptible people, such as young children, adults older than 65, and those battling chronic illness, such as heart disease, especially for the next couple months.

"This year is mimicking the 2014 outbreak and if that's the case, then we can continue to see influenza through the end of March," said Dr. Kontra.

So far this season in Pennsylvania, the Department of Health reports six deaths from flu complications.

Last year, there were 148 deaths.

Dr. Kontra said its not too late to take preventative measures, such as getting a flu vaccine.

"It can be a deadly virus which is why vaccination is so important and why early diagnosis and treatment is important," said Dr. Kontra.

If the flu bug latches on, he recommends getting rest, drink plenty of fluids and don't try and power through a day at work.

Officials with the Natural Healing Center , LLC based in Harrisburg offer for following suggestions if you prefer to avoid vaccination.

They recommend getting oscillococcinum or sambucol, which they say can be purchased at any common super market or grocery store.

They also suggest soaking your feet in epsom or kosher salt, then putting oil on your feet under socks before going to sleep.

Another recommendation for Natural Healing Center, LLC is putting raspberry or lemon in tea or boiling water with fresh ginger and adding honey to help.