By Bob Allen

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — So far, there are over 17,000 flu cases in Pennsylvania.

More than a third are in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region. Allegheny County now has 4,099 cases, Beaver County has 976 cases and Westmoreland County currently 1,099 cases, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Dr. Brent Rau works in the emergency room at Allegheny General Hospital.

“Part of that is the weather right now. As it gets colder, people are huddling together indoors, and we end up with people sharing the same illness,” Dr. Rau said. “We also have a pretty high elderly population here in the Pittsburgh and Allegheny County area particularly, and they’re more prone to developing this as well.”

It’s only early January, and the flu season is off to one of its fastest starts ever. Hospitals like AGH and others throughout the region are admitting and treating more patients.

Dr. Rau advises some common sense measures if you have flu-like symptoms: stay at home, always wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough and drink plenty of liquids. He’s not as worried about people with strong immune systems and in good health as much as younger children and the elderly with certain illnesses, that are more susceptible to the virus.

“It’s certainly scary if you have a patient population that has cancer, undergoing chemotherapy that are already [fighting with] a suppressed immune system when they develop the flu.”

So far, the overwhelming majority of influenza cases are type B. Dr. Rau says it varies year to year with more type A cases down south, but it’s too early to tell.

“A lot of times what it ends up being is that we start with one, they start with the other and they kind of flip. That might be the way it is this year,” Dr. Rau said.

He reminds everyone that it is not too late to get a flu shot, saying you can’t get the flu from a flu shot.