Flu season strikes early in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware

A woman gets an injection in her upper arm

Vaccinated people get the flu at a rate that’s 30 percent lower than people who don’t get the shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control. (Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

Flu season is off to an early start this year, and experts say it’s time to get a flu shot, if you haven’t already, because numbers could peak even more around the holidays.

So far, in Pennsylvania, there have been 1,057 confirmed cases of the flu. This time last year in Pennsylvania, that number was closer to 200.

Cases are also up in Delaware and New Jersey. In Delaware, there have been 30 cases this season, compared with 20 at this time last year.  In New Jersey, the number jumped from 161 cases last year to 310 this year.

If those numbers continue to climb, that would be a big public health concern, said Brendan Flannery, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

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“We worry about people traveling and the flu traveling with them and people getting exposed,” he said. And to make matters worse, many doctors aren’t working their normal hours during the holiday season.

The CDC doesn’t know for sure yet when the true high point will be, Flannery said, because it’s early in the season, and scientists are still watching the data. The peak could come later, and he expects he’ll have a more accurate prediction in a few weeks.

One thing Flannery is very clear about: If you haven’t gotten a flu shot, get one now.  

“We try to have people get flu shots before there’s influenza in their community, because it does take about two weeks for the flu shot to really protect people as much as it can,” he said.

On the whole, vaccinated people get the flu at a rate that’s 30 percent lower than those who don’t get the shot, he said.

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