The number of flu cases in the Lehigh Valley and throughout Pennsylvania spiked in early January as health officials continue to deal with one of the worst flu outbreaks in years.
The state reported Tuesday there were 18 influenza-related deaths last week, bringing to 22 the total number of flu-related deaths this season, according to the state Health Department website.
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 from the state Department of Health put the number of confirmed cases in the Lehigh Valley at 1,205 as of Jan. 5, up from a total of 683 cases. There were 585 cases in Lehigh County and 620 cases in Northampton County from Oct 2 to 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. Flu cases have now been reported in all the state's 67 counties.
The flu does not peak until mid-January or February, so it is not too late to get a flu shot. To find a place near you to get a flu shot, type 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.