Maryland’s flu season might have peaked, but the number of cases remains widespread across the state, and health officials are still urging people to be vaccinated, a state epidemiologist said this week.
The latest figures, released Monday, from the state’s weekly report showed 3.5 percent of those visiting doctor offices for the week ending Jan. 5 were for the flu, compared with 10.1 percent the prior week. In addition, emergency room visits declined slightly to 4.3 percent from the previous week’s 4.6 percent.
But the numbers still remained significantly higher than the past two flu seasons, and it is still too early to know how much longer the flu season will last or if the numbers could rise again, said Dr. David Blythe, medical epidemiologist with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which collects the data.
“There’s still a lot of influenza activity out there, so get your flu shot,” Blythe said. “The season can continue for months. I hope we have seen the peak, but we do sometimes get a double peak.”
The number of people hospitalized from influenza for the week also dropped to 199 from the previous week’s 256, according to the state report. So far this flu season, 734 people have been hospitalized for the flu, with 47 percent of those people older than 65.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared Jan. 11 that the flu had reached epidemic levels and was widespread across 46 states.
Maryland’s first flu death was reported Jan. 11 by Frederick Memorial Hospital after an elderly patient died while being treated for the illness.
Prince George’s County Health officials were offering free flu vaccinations this week in an effort to immunize more people.
Hospitals have reported a large volume of additional patients in emergency rooms from the flu and influenza-like illnesses, Maryland Hospital Association spokesman Jim Reiter said.
All three of Adventist HealthCare’s local emergency departments in Montgomery County were seeing an influx in patients with flu-like symptoms, spokeswoman Marisa Lavine said.
About 40 extra patients per day were entering the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital’s main emergency department with flu-like symptoms compared with a year ago, she said.