The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) urges Marylanders to get vaccinated against influenza, as the flu season has already begun, with 11 laboratory confirmed cases identified since September 1.
The majority of the cases so far have been subtyped as influenza A (H3N2), with a few classified as influenza B. 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. Don’t put it off. 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 influenza cases are mild and people recover with little to no complications, influenza can pose a serious risk for children younger than 5 years, adults older than 65 years, pregnant women and individuals with compromised immune systems.
During last year’s influenza season, 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.
The influenza virus spreads from person to person through coughing or sneezing, as well as through contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces and objects. Common symptoms include fever, body aches, fatigue, coughing and sore throat. 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.”
Influenza vaccine is recommended for everyone six months of age and older. 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 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
For more information on prevention, visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/index.html. Stay up-to-date on influenza activity in Maryland by visiting https://phpa.health.maryland.gov/influenza/fluwatch/.
The online Maryland Resident Influenza Tracking Survey (MRITS) was designed to enhance existing influenza surveillance by monitoring influenza-like illnesses among those who may not seek medical care. Sign up at http://flusurvey.health.maryland.gov/. For more information about the seriousness of influenza and benefits of vaccination, visit https://phpa.health.maryland.gov/influenza/ or http://www.cdc.gov/flu/ or call the CDC at 1-800-CDC-INFO.