The number of flu cases in the Bucks-Montgomery County area and throughout Pennsylvania spiked in early January as health officials continue to deal with one of the worst flu outbreaks in years.
Flu season is so bad this year that Allmed Comprehensive Care Center in Bensalem has implemented stricter protocols for patients that arrive at the urgent care clinic with flu-like symptoms.
"We are separating them in the waiting room and asking those who come in with symptoms to wear masks," said Robert Baca, an administrator at the care center. "Last Saturday I saw 30 people come in with symptoms over a four-hour period."
The state reported there were 18 influenza-related deaths the first week of January, bringing to 22 the total number of flu-related deaths this season. The state health department Web site did not indicate the counties where the deaths occurred.
Most of the reported deaths were among those 65 and older, but two of the people who died were "otherwise healthy" people under age 50, the state health officials said. No pediatric flu-related deaths have been reported.
Statistics released from the state Department of Health put the number of confirmed cases in Bucks County at 373 and 559 in Montgomery County as of Jan. 5.
In Pennsylvania, the number of confirmed flu cases jumped to 11,327 since Oct. 2, up from a total of 7,181 cases the previous week.
It is not too late to get a flu shot. The Montgomery County Health Department is offering free flu shots at several county locations. Aside from the county, you can find a place near you to get a flu shot by typing your zip code into the Flu Finder site.
Influenza—more commonly known as simply "the flu"—is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses infecting the nose, throat and lungs. It spreads via infected people coughing, sneezing or talking, though people can also get infected by touching something with the flu virus on it before touching their mouth, eyes or nose.
Symptoms of the flu include muscle or body aches, headache, cough, sore throat, fatigue, fever or chills, and vomiting and diarrhea (the latter two are more common in kids). The flu can also worsen chronic medical conditions or cause death.
State health officials say lab-confirmed flu cases represent only a fraction of those with the flu, since most people with the flu -- including those who seek health care -- are diagnosed on the presumption they have the flu without lab tests performed.