Flu cases, colds in western Pennsylvania as people relax covid-19 precautions

Influenza cases now outnumber Covid-19 cases in some areas of western Pennsylvania, though they remain well below pre-pandemic numbers, experts say.

“Over the last two weeks, there has certainly been an increase in non-Covid-related illnesses in the region. Chief among these pathogens has been the annual influenza virus,” said Dr. Thomas Kessler, a physician at the MedExpress urgent care center on Mosside Boulevard in Monroeville.

As of April 9, Allegheny County had recorded 3,266 flu cases since the start of the flu season in October, more than 10 times the 305 recorded this time last year. The most recent figures are still a fraction of the nearly 13,800 cases that were reported during the same time period in the 2019-20 flu season.

However, the week-over-week numbers haven’t followed their usual pattern, said Dr. Richard Zimmerman, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of Pittsburgh.

Influenza cases typically increase in December and come in two waves: influenza A and influenza B, generally in that order. So far this season, both in Allegheny County and in Pennsylvania in general, there have been two peaks and the vast majority of cases have been influenza A.

“This has been an amazing year,” Zimmerman said.

Pennsylvania Department of Health

Data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health shows the peaks and troughs of the 2021-2022 flu season so far. Flu season generally runs from October to May.

In Westmoreland County, there have been 1,571 cases of the flu so far this year. The county recorded 3,670 in the entire 2019-20 flu season.

Zimmerman said the main reason swine flu is circulating so widely is the fact that the flu vaccine offered in the fall doesn’t protect against that specific strain.

“It’s kind of hard to ask a vaccine to protect against the virus it doesn’t contain,” he said. “People think the flu is the same thing. It is not.”

He said influenza cases outnumber Covid cases at UPMC testing sites. That is the case in other health systems as well.

“Obviously we had the omicron surge towards the end of the year, and that has died down significantly,” said Dr. Kip Jenifer, an emergency physician at AHN Hempfield. “Now, we’ve had, I wouldn’t say much, but we’ve had cases of influenza.”

Kessler said that while cases remain below pre-pandemic levels, “this increase is a bit unusual for this time of year, when the pattern typically shows a steady decline in influenza cases.”

He said April often marks a turning point for urgent care centers, when most visits shift from respiratory illnesses to injuries from hot-weather activities.

“This year, the spring rains have led to more coughs and colds in recent weeks,” Kessler said, noting that he has also seen an increase in stomach viruses.

“Without a doubt, the relaxation of mitigating factors has played a role in that increase,” he said, “and time will tell if the additional social interaction during the summer months will continue that pattern.”

Jenifer said flu cases are outnumbering Covid-19 cases, though they are still not at the level they were before the pandemic.

“I think social distancing, masking, handwashing and so on have also reduced all cases of influenza in the last two years,” he said.

He said logic would dictate that other diseases have increased as covid mitigation measures have been relaxed and people have let down their guard.

“I can’t say I’m 100% sure of the science and data behind it, but I do suspect that as we start to relax and have fewer masks, our flu viruses and other things will start to increase again,” Jenifer. saying.

“But I think the pandemic may have shown everyone that washing your hands often, keeping your distance, not going to work when you’re sick — these kinds of things can continue and may actually start to improve our numbers going forward for some. of these respiratory diseases,” he said.

In addition to the spread of the flu, it’s also allergy season.

“I’ve seen a lot of people in my center suffering from seasonal allergies in the last few weeks,” Kessler said.

He said it’s hard to say if this year has been worse than others, but the weather may play a role.

“I can say that the turbulent and fluctuating weather patterns we’ve seen recently with respect to temperature and atmospheric pressure may leave people more prone to the effects of seasonal allergies,” he said.

He added that allergies can mimic disease.

“Allergic rhinitis can cause some confusion in differentiating a seasonal condition from upper respiratory disease,” Kessler said. “A history of allergies and the absence of other symptoms, such as fever or body aches, usually provide the proper diagnosis.”

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. Megan can be reached at 412-380-8519, mguza@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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