BALTIMORE — The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) confirms that 11 laboratory influenza cases have been identified since September 1, the start of flu season.
The majority of the cases, so far, have been subtyped as influenza A (H3N2), with a few classified as influenza B. The MDH is urging Marylanders to get vaccinated against the influenza because the vaccine protects against both influenza A and B.
“We don’t know yet whether flu activity this early indicates a particularly bad season on the horizon,” said MDH Secretary Robert R. Neall. “Still, we can’t emphasize strongly enough – get your flu shot now. The vaccine is widely available at grocery stores, pharmacies and local health clinics, in addition to your doctor’s office.”
Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease that may lead to serious complications, hospitalization and even death. Although most cases are mild and people recover with little to no complications, the flu can pose a serious risk for children younger than 5 years old, adults older than 65 years old, pregnant women and individuals with compromised immune systems.
Last year, 3,274 influenza-associated hospitalizations and 82 influenza-associated deaths were reported to the MDH, including four deaths of individuals under the age of 18 years old.
The flu virus spreads from person to person through coughing or sneezing and contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces and objects. Common symptoms include fever, body aches, fatigue, coughing and sore throat. These symptoms usually begin one to four days after being exposed.
“The best way to protect yourself and your family is to get a flu shot. Getting vaccinated every year is important because the strains change over time,” said Deputy Secretary for Public Health Fran Phillips. “Also, keep in mind that it takes about two weeks after being vaccinated before the body’s full immune response kicks in.”
The influenza vaccination is recommended for everyone six months of age and older and it is especially important for individuals who are at high risk for influenza-related complications including:
- Children 6 months through 5 years old
- People over 50 years old
- Adults and children who have chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic or metabolic disorders
- People who are immunocompromised
- Women who are or will become pregnant during the flu season
- Children and adolescents who are receiving aspirin, or salicylate, containing medications and who might be at risk for Reye syndrome after the influenza virus infection
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- People who are extremely obese (body mass index more than 40 for adults)
If you think you have the flu:
- Contact your health care provider to help manage symptoms or complications
- Get rest and drink plenty of fluids
- Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers and wash your hands often
- Stay home from work or school to avoid spreading the flu