Maryland’s hospital emergency rooms have seen more than 3,000 sneezing, coughing, miserable people with flu-like symptoms so far this flu season.
But not all of the 3,154 cases seen in Maryland were actually influenza. According to the Maryland Department of Health’s weekly flu report, 111 cases responded positive to rapid flu tests. Only four of the 32 cases sent to state labs tested positive.
But still, flu is here, said Kelley Smith, nurse and immunization coordinator with the Frederick County Health Department. It is too early to tell if this will be a bad year for the flu or if the flu vaccine will be a good match for the strains seen.
It is unclear if there are any flu cases in Frederick County, as the Maryland Department of Health does not release the location of each case. According to the weekly report, there is minimal but widespread activity. A spokeswoman for Frederick Health Hospital did not return a request for comment on any cases seen in the emergency department.
Flu activity in the state started earlier than usual, said Maureen Regan, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Health. But the level of activity is minimal, similar to the same period last year. Visits to the emergency department, while more than 3,000, are slightly lower than what was observed during the same period of time last year, Regan said in an email.
Even though the flu is here, it is not too late to get a flu shot, Smith said. Even if a person already got the flu, they should still get vaccinated because they can catch it again.
“We’re into the beginning of November, and now we’re going to be into Thanksgiving,” Smith said. “We’re going to be in the Christmas holidays, and that’s when you’re going to start getting a whole lot of people together.”
It is difficult to tell between a respiratory virus and the flu, Smith said. A good indicator is a high fever. Most colds will make people feel achy and miserable, but they will not cause a high fever like influenza.
“[The flu] just feel[s] like you were hit, just like you can’t get out of bed. Your hair hurts,” she said.
Besides the flu, respiratory viruses are floating around, Smith said. As the weather gets colder, more people tend to stay inside. It is important to practice good hand-washing techniques and to wash “high touch areas” such as the handles of shopping carts, she said.
She recommended people keep hand sanitizer in their car or at their desk and use it. If a person does get sick, they should stay home.