Cumberland Times-News

January 27, 2013

Intensity of flu-like illnesses still high in state

Mary Tablante
Capital News Service

— ANNAPOLIS — The flu

strain that has been making

many sick in Maryland and

around the country may be

peaking, but that doesn’t

mean it’s time to cease precautions

and skip the flu shot.

Other strains could circulate,

keeping the flu around

for months.

Overall, the intensity of flulike

illnesses in Maryland

remains high, according to

the latest Maryland Department

of Health and Mental

Hygiene report for the week

ending Jan. 19. The influenza

virus was geographically

widespread according to the

last report, meaning there is

flu activity throughout different

regions, said David

Blythe, a medical epidemiologist

with the state. While the

virus is difficult to predict, he

said there is a possibility the

flu has peaked and is headed

toward a decline.

Even though the H3N2

strain has predominated this

flu season, people could contract

other strains and respiratory

viruses, such as

parainfluenza and respiratory

syncytial virus (RSV). The

flu vaccine can protect

against these different

strains and viruses.

It’s not too late to get vaccinated,

but the Centers for

Disease Control and Prevention

advises people to call

more than one provider to

find an available vaccine,

because the vaccine is moredifficult to find than it was earlier

in the flu season. Donald

Milton, a professor in the

School of Public Health at the

University of Maryland, said

this flu season seems unusually

bad because there was a mild

flu season last year.

Milton oversees a research

study that aims to find out how

much people shed into the air

when they have the flu. The

study will also look at how long

the flu takes to spread from

person to person.

“We’re actively recruiting

people to come early in their flu

if they should be so unlucky to

get it,” he said. “We want to test

them as soon as possible to see

how much virus they are shedding

into the air, as a way to tell

how infectious people are.”

Blythe said the H3N2 strain

is typically more severe than

normal flu, which is one reason

why this flu season feels more

intense. The flu is most common

among young people

between the ages of 5 and 24.

Despite the increased flu

activity, hospitals have been

able to handle the influx of

patients.

“I know people who have

been sick, and that’s had a big

impact on them and their families,

but in terms of things like

hospitals functioning, of course

they’re still functioning,”

Blythe said.

In Annapolis, where legislators,

lobbyists and the public

come together for 90 days of

handshaking and lawmaking,

the legislature is operating as

normal despite the intensity of

the flu season.

Delegate Mary Washington,

D-Baltimore, said it’s been

business as usual. She relies on

people paying attention to the

CDC and the news to figure out

what measures they want to

take.

“You can’t overestimate what

can happen,” she said. “We’re

in a very close space with each

other constantly, and if someone’s

not feeling so well, they

should stay home. But because

we’re working so hard and

we’re only here 90 days, the

tendency to work through your

illness is just there.”

Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez,

D-Montgomery, said she hopes

communication about the flu

will start earlier next season so

it will be more preventable.

“I’m sorry (the media) didn’t

make the big fuss earlier

because it seemed like the

news was there after there

were a lot of cases, so it seems

we need to prevent earlier ... I

didn’t get (a flu shot) because I

hadn’t even focused on it until I

saw the really serious news.”