Health officials say flu activity in Maryland is picking up.
Baltimore, Md (KM). It could be a very active flu season this year. The US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says influenza is “widespread” in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Virginia.
“Just looking at the data from the last week or so, it does look like flu activity is starting to increase here in Maryland as well as in the United States,” says Kurt Seetoo, Immunization Program Manager for the Maryland Department of Health. “Most of the viruses that we have seen are H3N2 virus, and that one does tend to be associated with more severe illness, especially among people older than 65 years and children.”
He says it’s not unusual to see the H3N2 virus early in the flu season. “We usually do see the H3N2 first and then as the season progresses, sometimes it diminishes, sometimes it doesn’t. But H3N2 is definitely one of the ones we see,” says Seetoo.
Despite this normal trend when it comes to H3n2, Seetoo says health officials in the state are concerned that the season could get worse. “We have not reached our peak so I would say that, yes,definitely, we are looking at the flu season to become more severe.. And so that’s why we are encouraging people to still get vaccinated. It’s not too late to get vaccinated just because we have not reached out peak yet,” he says.
The flu vaccine being distributed this year is designed to counter the H1N1, H3N2 and Influenza B viruses. But it has not been very effective against the flu this season, especially in Australia which recently completed its flu season. :”They used a vaccine that’s similar to ours. And based on the information from Australia, vaccine effectiveness was 33% for all influenza viruses,” says Seetoo.
But Marylanders should still get vaccinated, he says. “Even though the flu vaccine is not perfect, those who do get vaccinated may still get the flu. But the illness is usually much milder for those people that have been vaccinated,” says Seetoo. He also says the vaccine can protect the recipient from illnesses and hospitalizations.
In addition to getting vaccinated, the Department of Health says other ways to keep the flu at bay include washing your hands frequently, and sneezing into your sleeve or a tissue. But throw the tissue away after using it. Along with that, stay home from work or school if you’re sick.
By Kevin McManus