Last updated: February 20. 2013 1:39AM - 754 Views

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WILKES-BARRE ?? More clinics are being held to combat a rise in flu cases, and area health officials say this strain is the worst the region has seen in more than a decade.

Ted Kross, Wilkes-Barre??s health director, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and state health officials have said this is the earliest in the season that they have seen such a high number of reported cases. ??The CDC is predicting the peak is still to come,? Kross said.

The flu typically doesn??t blanket the country until late January or February, but it struck earlier in many areas, including most of Pennsylvania.

Kross advises people to stay home from school or work if they have the flu.

??And if they haven??t gotten the flu yet,? he said, ??the vaccine is still the best defense against it.?

Kross said influenza activity in Pennsylvania is widespread. Despite the free clinics held in the fall, Luzerne County is showing higher numbers of confirmed cases as compared to neighboring counties ?? due to a higher population concentrated in Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre, Kross said. Neighboring counties are more rural.

Influenza, commonly called the flu, is a contagious disease caused by the influenza virus. It attacks the respiratory tract.

??The flu is different from a cold,? Kross said. ??Influenza usually comes on suddenly and may include symptoms like fever, headache, tiredness and body aches.?

As of Jan. 5, there have been 366 cases confirmed in Luzerne County this season and 11,327 in Pennsylvania, Kross said. In the first week of 2013, Kross said, 4,256 flu cases were reported, up from 3,158 cases reported during the last week of 2012. He said more than 7,000 flu cases were reported during the last two weeks of December.

??Because the flu does not peak until mid-January or February,? said Kross, ??now is the time to get vaccinated.?

Matthew Van Stone, spokesman for Geisinger Health System, said about 200 flu cases systemwide have been reported ?? significantly more because the flu season hit earlier this year. He said about 60 cases were confirmed at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township.

??During the flu season, especially one as severe as this year??s, we urge people experiencing flu-like symptoms to first see their primary-care physician,? he said. ??If, for some reason, a patient cannot get an appointment with their primary-care physician, it is best to avoid the emergency room and utilize urgent care or walk-in convenient care options in order to avoid long wait times and emergency room congestion.?

At Hazleton General Hospital, the number of flu cases began to rise much earlier than anticipated.

Seasonal flu vaccine clinics

Wilkes-Barre Health De
partment: 71 N. Franklin St.

? Today Scheduled appointments only.

? Monday: Walk-in clinic 2 to 4 p.m.; limited vaccine available.

Hazleton General Home Care: The division of Hazleton General Hospital is offering vaccinations for $29; however, the shot might be covered by your health insurance. To make an appointment, call 501-4949.

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