SHAMOKIN - The current flu season is on track to be one of the worst in the last seven years, according to the regional director for VNA Health System.

"The 2009-2010 season is recorded as the worst so far, but this year will come close, considering we haven't even reached peak flu season yet," said Yvonne Timco, RN.

VNA, which has an office in Shamokin, provides home health care and related services in 18 counties, including Northumberland, Columbia, Montour and Schuykill, regardless of customers' ability to pay.

The first week of 2013 reportedly had the highest number of lab-confirmed cases of the flu in Pennsylvania this season, said Timco.

According to this week's FluView report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza activity continues to increase nationwide with most of the country now experiencing high levels of influenza-like illness (ILI).

The percentage of people seeing a health care provider for ILI is above the national baseline for the fourth consecutive week, having climbed sharply from 2.8 percent to 5.6 percent over the past four weeks with 41 states, including Pennsylvania, reporting widespread flu activity.

The Associated Press reported more than 11,000 laboratory-confirmed cased have been reported in Pennsylvania since flu season began in mid-December. This past week saw a dramatic intensification, with nearly 4,300 new cases and 18 deaths.

VNA provides immunizations for approximately 10,000 individuals annually, and there is no shortage of flu vaccines available from them.

Hardest on young, old

Tony Cooper, administrator for Mountain View: A Nursing Rehabilitation Center in Coal Township, said people who are not feeling well are asked not to come into the facility, but they are not restricting those individuals. Cooper urges anyone feeling unwell to see a doctor.

"We're dealing with a population that's already compromised. Flu season is harder on the young and older. They're the most susceptible," he said.

If employees at Mountain View have not received flu vaccines, or if someone is sick with the flu, the ill or unvaccinated person is required to wear a mask, he said.

While there have been some cases of the flu this season, Cooper said it has not been enough to cause the facility to go beyond standard precaution.

Timco recommends everyone get a flu shot to avoid illness.

"It's a myth that you will get the flu if you get a flu shot. Flu prevention is a common-sense approach, and requires good hygiene habits," she said.

Tips

To avoid spreading the flu: - Cough and sneeze into your elbow or tissue.

- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use antibacterial hand sanitizer.

- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

- Keep keyboards, telephones, handles and door knobs clean by disinfecting them regularly.

- Avoid close contact with those who are exhibiting symptoms. If you are sick, avoid contact with others until you are fever free for 24 hours.

- Don't go to work sick and keep sick children home from school.