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Heritage Valley Handles Influx of Flu Patients This Season

This flu season is considered one of the worst in recent years. Heritage Valley Health System is continuing to monitor its situation daily to stay ahead of the virus.

Heritage Valley Health System is dealing with a higher-than-usual volume of flu cases this winter, considered to be the worst flu season in recent years. 

Starting just before Christmas, Tom Pangburn, director of emergency services at Heritage Valley Health System, said both the Sewickley and Beaver hospitals in the health system began seeing an uptick in influenza-type flu cases. 

“It’s continued to be consistently high with peaks and valleys since that time,” Pangburn said.

While numbers fluctuate with more visits on Sundays and Mondays, Pangburn said the emergency room department is seeing about 10 to 15 percent more visits per day than a year ago, when there wasn't a huge influenza outbreak.

Heritage Valley’s multi-disciplinary management team, which includes senior administration, meets about four times a day to see where operations are as far as staffing, beds resource options and the emergency department flow.

On top of the flu, the hospital is also treating injuries, heart attacks, appendicitis and other illnesses and conditions unrelated to flu.

Pangburn said they try to manage the sickest first, and asked for patience from those who might have a longer wait.

“We’re asking the public in general just to bear with us. We’re trying to do as best we can,” he said.

Influenza is caused by a virus that infects the respiratory system different from the stomach flu, which is a "gastrointestinal illness."  Allegheny County reported four flu deaths this season. All four deaths were patients were 65 or olde, with the oldest victim 98 years old.

For someone who is elderly or frail, Pangburn said having the flu on top of another tenuous medical condition, such as diabetes, cardiac disease or emphysema, can result in more severe symptoms and longer hospital stays with a recovery period lasting well over a week. Flu can also pose other risks such as bacterial pneumonia, a complication of influenza.

“Our biggest issue in Western Pennsylvania is we have an older population with medical issues to begin with,” Pangburn said. “They have a much harder time fighting the influenza virus.” 

Pangburn said the youth population is typically able to fight off the disease in a shorter period of time, but no one is immune.

Pangburn said the vaccines available for the strains of flu this year aren't 100 percent effective, but will provide some protection. He said some of the more severe cases of flu he's personally seen are people who have not been immunized. He said it's not too late to get a flu shot and encourages those who haven’t to get the vaccine.

“For sure immunization is the best way to prevent getting one or more of the strains that are out there,” Pangburn said.

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Find a Flu Shot

Flu shots are available in the Sewickley area at many locations, including:

  • Heritage Valley ConvenientCare locations, which require no appointment and have extended hours of operation.
  • Rite Aid offers flu shots. Just walk in, no appointment needed. Pharmacy hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
  • Giant Eagle pharmacies offer flu shots. Walk-in counseling is available or you can schedule an appointment.
  • CVS Pharmacy, 11240 Perry Highway, Wexford.

The Allegheny County Health Department also offers flu shots at its walk-in clinic at 3441 Forbes Avenue in Oakland.

No appointment necessary:
• 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
• 1 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays.

To find more flu shot locations, click on this link.

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