Department of Health provides update on flu season, low activity statewide and nationally

Regional News

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WTAJ) — Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam and Deputy Secretary of Health Preparedness and Community Protection Ray Barishansky Thursday highlighted that flu activity has been, and remains, low across the commonwealth and nationally this flu season. 

“In recent years, flu activity has been widespread across Pennsylvania,” Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said. “Last season was higher than usual with more than 11,000 cases of flu this time of year. That is a stark difference from where we are in 2021; below 3,000 cases. We can attribute the low flu activity in part to COVID-19 mitigation efforts that are also effective in preventing the flu, since the two infectious diseases spread the same way. In addition, a record number of individuals got their flu vaccine this season.”

Flu activity is currently low across the commonwealth. The 2020-21 season, with the co-circulation of COVID-19, is comparable to the 2015-16 season when the H1N1 flu virus predominated. As of February 27, there have been 2,816 laboratory-confirmed flu cases and 14 flu-associated deaths statewide.

There are flu cases in all 67 counties. Influenza A and B have been identified by laboratory testing. The percent of outpatient visits associated with Influenza-Like Illness (ILI) has been low and is still below the state epidemic threshold. A total of 37 influenza-associated hospitalizations have been reported in Pennsylvania during the current flu season. The full flu report can be found on the 2020-2021 flu season webpage, here.

The Pennsylvania Bureau of Laboratories continues to test individuals for both flu and COVID-19. Only positive flu lab tests are reportable to PA-NEDSS. However, it was reported nationally that the drop of flu cases occurred despite a sixfold increase in testing at public health labs, most of which test for influenza A and B along with COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended health care providers test patients who have COVID-19-like symptoms for both flu and COVID-19, because it is impossible to differentiate between the two viruses without testing, and patients can have both viruses at the same time.

The department’s epidemiologists continue to monitor and compare statewide flu activity with the national flu activity. The CDC reported that seasonal flu activity in the United States remains lower than usual for this time of year. As of February 12, 2021, the CDC reported 193.7 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed in the United States. This surpassed the previous record of 174.5 million doses distributed during the 2019-20 flu season.

The flu vaccines are available in Pennsylvania as a shot for anyone 6 months or older and as a shot or nasal spray for anyone age 2 or older. Flu vaccines are available at your doctor’s office, pharmacy, local clinics or grocery store. A list of upcoming flu clinics can be found here.

In addition to getting vaccinated, Pennsylvanians are encouraged to practice healthy habits such as covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, frequently washing your hands, and remembering to disinfect commonly touched objects including doorknobs, light switches, countertops, cell phones and computers.

Furthermore, Pennsylvanians are encouraged to practice COVID-19 safety measures such as wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding small and large gatherings and downloading the COVID Alert PA app. You can monitor both flu and COVID-19 symptoms by tracking the symptoms daily in the ‘check-in’ feature of the app.

A multidisciplinary working group comprised of internal and external partners is prepared to quickly respond to increased flu activity should it increase over the next several months.

“It is great that flu activity is so low, but this is not the time to let down our guard, rather it is a testimony to the mitigation efforts in place to slow the spread of infectious diseases,” Deputy Secretary of Health Preparedness and Community Protection Ray Barishansky said. “If you have not already done so, please get your flu vaccine today for extra protection against the virus. Let’s continue to do our part to stop the spread of flu and COVID-19 by wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing, and following all of the mitigation efforts in place.”

Flu is a contagious disease caused by the influenza virus. It attacks the nose, throat and lungs and may include the following symptoms:

  • Fever;
  • Headache;
  • Tiredness;
  • Dry cough;
  • Sore throat;
  • Nasal congestion; and
  • Body aches.

If you do become sick with the flu, it is imperative that you stay home. If you are at risk for developing serious complications from the flu, or feel extremely ill, you should see a medical professional immediately.

Additional information on how to stay healthy and prevent the spread of flu and COVID-19 can be found on the Department of Health’s website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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