PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The Allegheny County Health Department says 15 people have died of the flu this season.

“This is a particularly bad flu season,” says Dr. Kristen Mertz, an epidemiologist at the Allegheny County Health Department. “We’ve had 15 deaths this year reported to us. All of last season, we had 15 total. So we’re going to end up definitely with more deaths than last year.”

Those who died were 55 and older and had other health problems.

“It hits the elderly hard, very young children, and people who are immune compromised,” she says.

The circumstances of infection are still being worked out.

“A lot of these deaths are still under investigation, so I don’t know the exact details of when they acquired it and where they acquired it,” she said. “The percentage of health care workers that get vaccinated is pretty low in this part of the state, though I think that will be changing shortly.”

Also high — the number of flu cases.

Allegheny County leads the area with nearly 4,000, followed by Washington County with just over 1,300, and Westmoreland County with almost 1,200.

“Allegheny County has a lot of cases reported because we have a high population,” Dr. Mertz said. “I don’t have any reason to think flu is any worse in Allegheny County than it is in the neighboring counties.”

The number of reported cases is only a fraction of the number of cases out there, and reflects only positive tests.

“We have almost 4,000 cases reported, but the true number of cases out there is many, many times that number,” she says.

The season can go into March and April, so it’s not too late for a flu shot.

“If you are sick, stay home, don’t visit grandma,” she cautions.

These deaths show the flu is more than a nuisance, but can actually be deadly if not for you, perhaps for someone around you who catches it.

Vaccination is still the best preventive measure, even when it isn’t exact. It does still protect against a few other strains besides the predominant ones.

Of course, washing hands and avoiding sick people are good preventive measures, too.

Join The Conversation On The KDKA Facebook Page
Stay Up To Date, Follow KDKA On Twitter

Dr. Maria Simbra