Cumberland Times-News

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January 2, 2014

Flu activity being closely monitored

About one-third of flu tests returned positive, with larger proportion of younger people being affected

CUMBERLAND — While there are influenza cases in the area, the overall activity statewide is sporadic, health officials are saying. Cases of the influenza virus grew in December.

“We are starting to see many patients with the flu or flu-like symptoms,” said Kathy Rogers of the Western Maryland Health System.

“Since December 17, we have done 475 tests for influenza; the tests come from inpatients, patients visiting the emergency department and patients who are seen by various physician practices in the community. Of those tests, 143 tested positive for influenza, with the majority being Influenza A.”

The Allegany County Health Department is keeping a close eye on the situation, said Brenda Caldwell, public information coordinator for the department. She responded to a request from the Times-News on behalf of Dr. Sue Raver, the county health officer.

“There has been an increase in confirmed influenza activity in all regions of the state. ... Naturally, this increase in confirmed cases includes our county and the surrounding region. There have also been a number of hospitalizations locally due to the flu. While the illness is predominant in children and the elderly, there’s a greater than normal proportion of younger people being affected this influenza season,” Caldwell said. The flu cases are in every sector, including nursing homes.

“We have had an outbreak in a nursing home and in an assisted living facility and we expect to see more during the season.  When an outbreak is reported to the health department, we work closely with both the hospital and the facilities affected to monitor the progression of illness and provide guidance for infection control to limit the spread of the flu,” Caldwell said.

It’s not too late to get a flu shot, Caldwell said.

“It is important to note that it is not too late to obtain your flu vaccination if you have not done so already. Many pharmacies and other providers are still offering vaccine, and the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that everyone 6 months of age and up get an annual flu vaccination. This not only helps to prevent the vaccinated individual from contracting the flu, but protects vulnerable persons close to that individual from illness as well,” Caldwell said.

The pattern this year is a bit different from last year’s flu, said Rogers.

“We have had 21 patients admitted with the flu since the 17th of December. Last year, the flu season didn’t really hit this area until after the first of the year, so our December 2012 numbers were much lower,” Rogers said.

Statewide, flu activity had been low. “During the week ending December 21, influenza-like illness intensity was minimal and there was local geographic spread of influenza,” according to a report from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Most of the cases were A type flu, which includes a variety of flu strains, state officials said.

Some local nursing homes are asking for limited visits in response to flu cases as part of precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.

“We’d like visitors to be limited to immediate family,” said Jeff Metz of Egle Nursing and Rehab Center of Lonaconing. The actual number of flu cases at Egle is very small.

“In the past two weeks, we’ve had two confirmed cases” said Cheryl Taylor, director of nursing at Egle. “We do have some respiratory illnesses.”

Allegany County Health Department officials have been urging people to get flu shots early.

Over the past few years “we notice we actually peak around December,” Fred Tola of the health department has said. Emergency department visits tend to peak in early winter, January and February, Tola said.

Tola said that protection with seasonal flu vaccines should start before November, given that hospital visits peak in January and that reminders to the public about flu vaccines should begin in late summer and early fall.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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