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Flu Season Worsens

Dr. Hany Atallah stands inside a mobile emergency room set up outside Grady Memorial Hospital to help handle flu cases in Atlanta.

Associated Press

Last week in Pennsylvania, 28 people died from the flu, bringing the number of deaths this flu season to 135.

According to the state Department of Health, the majority of those deaths involved someone aged 65 and older. This season to date, 106 of the 135 deaths involved those older than 65, while there were two pediatric deaths, six deaths of people aged 19 to 49 and 21 deaths of those 50 to 64 years old.

Those numbers are typical when it comes to flu-associated deaths, according to Dr. John Goldman, infectious disease specialist with UPMC Pinnacle.

“Typically in any given year, you’ll have 10 to 20 to 30,000 people who will die from the flu,” he said. “About 90 percent of those are above age 65. It’s relatively rare for younger people to die from the flu.”

If there are pediatric cases, Goldman said those deaths typically involve children who are 2 and younger.

Others at higher risk include those with underlying health factors, such as congestive heart failure, emphysema and asthma.

The National Center for Health Statistics collects death certificate data from state statistics for all deaths in the country, and part of that data includes pneumonia and influenza deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The NCHS Mortality Surveillance System shows that seniors have higher rates of flu-associated deaths during the season. An examination of the total deaths in the country shows 10.9 percent of those 65 and older had died of pneumonia or the flu in the second week of January.

According to the system, that rate of death varies anywhere from 8.7 percent to 12.2 percent at its peak. The system had not yet collected total data from Week 6 when this season could have potentially peaked.

Other age groups see anywhere from a 6 to 8 percent rate of flu-associated deaths.

In Pennsylvania, where the system did not break out deaths by age group, about 8.7 percent of the deaths in the third week of January could be attributed to the flu or pneumonia, with about 56 percent of the reports being collected. Pennsylvania’s overall rate can range from 8 percent to more than 10 percent, which is where it peaked in 2014-15, when the flu vaccine was considered less effective than in other years.

Email Naomi Creason at or follow her on Twitter @SentinelCreason


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