Doctors, hospitals seeing more patients with flu-like symptoms.
The flu season has come early to Maryland. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene says the first flu cases were detected in October. DHMH says the flu season usually starts in December of January.
Dr. David Blythe, a medical epidemiologist with the agency, says the early start has meant more people coming into doctor's offices and hospitals with flu-like symptoms; and it's not just one particular part of Maryland. "Right now, we're really seeing a lot of flu, so flu is widespread throughout Maryland, and really throughout most of the United States."
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the flu arrived earlier this year than in the past, and there's been a significant number of cases all across the country.
"We first saw laboratory-confirmed influenza back October this year," Dr. Blythe says. "But things have really picked up. Over the last three weeks plus, we've had widespread influenza activity here in Maryland."
Dr. Blythe says it's uncertain why the flu has started earlier this year. "We know in the Southern Hemisphere, they had a relatively early flu season, that persisted relatively late in their season," he says. The Southern Hemisphere is South America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. He says The flu season there takes place when it's summer and fall in the Northern Hemisphere, which includes North America, Europe and parts of Asia. "Whether there's some connection to that or the strength of what is circulating, I wish I knew the answer," says Dr. Blythe.
Even though the flu is here, Dr. Blythe says it's still not too late to get a flu shot. He says this year's vaccine is compatible with the flu-strain making its way across the nation.
"If you are in a group potentially at risk for complications, check in with your health care provider if you develop symptoms of the flu," he says. Those in the at-risk group include people 65 and older, young children, those with an underlying medical condition, and pregnant women.
The symptoms include high fever, headache, coughing, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, and problems with the stomach, such as vomiting and diarrhea. If you have any of these symptoms, health officials urge you to seek medical attention and stay home from work or school.
In addition to getting a flu shot, Dr. Blythe says cover your mouth when you cough, sneeze into your sleeve and wash your hands frequently.