Health: Flu Continues To Spread In Philadelphia Region; More Deaths Reported

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By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The flu continues to spread. There are more deaths in our area, and groups at risk this season now include the obese. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more on the latest flu trends.

On Thursday, New Jersey health officials announced flu activity in the state is now high, though it appears there are fewer cases in South Jersey. The flu in Pennsylvania is widespread, and it has not yet hit big in Delaware.

H1N1 swine flu cases continue to grow, and unlike years past where the flu mainly targets the elderly, this year, it’s hitting younger people and pregnant women harder than usual.

So far this season there have been 14 flu deaths in Pennsylvania. Eleven of them were those under the age of 65.

Another new trend, 46 percent of adults hospitalized with the flu are obese, according to health officials, who say that’s much higher than normal.

It’s unclear exactly why this strain of flu tends to hit obese people harder.

“It may have to do with lung function in the sense that when individuals are more obese, their lungs may be — not more fragile — but because of obesity, they don’t have the same capacity,” explains Dr. Pedro Piedra, an infectious disease specialist.

The CDC has now officially included obese people as a high risk group for this year’s flu. Part of the problem could be that the flu vaccine might be less effective in people who are substantially overweight, according to some research.

Doctors say that while everyone is vulnerable to flu, it tends to be more severe and fatal in high risk groups.

Dr. Kathleen Boyle, a family medicine physician with Lankenau Medical Center, says that even though it takes about two weeks to become effective, it’s not too late to get a flu shot.

“[It’s] very important. It’s important for everyone, as long as you’re not allergic to a component of the flu shot, to get it so that you don’t get sick, and you do not make others sick if you catch the flu,” Dr. Boyle says.

This year’s vaccine does cover the H1N1 strain and is recommended for everyone over the age of six months.

For more information, visit our Flu Guide.

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