By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Although we are in the midst of flu season, the flu has been off to a slow start this year.

“It’s relatively quiet right now,” says Guillermo Cole, Allegheny County Health Department spokesman. “Activity is low, just slightly above what we consider baseline.”

Year round, about two percent of emergency visits are for flu-like symptoms. Currently at three percent, the number of flu cases is significantly lower than last year’s eight-and-a-half percent.

“We do have two lab confirmed cases. So we do know there’s influenza, there’s just not a lot of it here,” says Cole.

It is unlikely that we have reached the peak yet.

“Usually on average, it’s late January, early February. Last year it was mid-February,” Cole explains.

Official flu numbers are tracked through laboratories that find the virus through patient testing, through information about outpatient visits and hospitalizations for the flu, and through death certificates that list the flu as a cause of death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Pennsylvania as a whole has sporadic activity, meaning there are just a few lab-confirmed cases, but there is no increase in the number of people with symptoms.

The rest of the country also has been hit pretty lightly.

Tools like Google Flu Trends, which uses search information, can uncannily predict when and where the flu will surge. In contrast to the CDC data, this tool says activity here is moderate.

“The worst may be yet to come, later on as we get into February,” Cole surmises.

For that reason, it is not too late to prevent the fever, cough, aches, chills and tiredness that accompany the flu.

“Go out and get your flu shot now if you haven’t already been vaccinated,” Cole says. “You’ll have protection for the peak that will eventually come.”

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Allegheny County Health Department

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