The weather is starting to warm up, spring is in the air and the flu is still in Maryland.

As of April 6, the Maryland Department of Health reported that the flu is at a minimal intensity but still widespread across the state. Last year, at this time, the amount of flu activity dropped below baseline.

The Maryland flu season usually extends to April, said Dr. Mohammed Ali, an infectious disease specialist at Meritus Hospital Center. Some seasons end earlier, in March, but the 2018-2019 looks to go through April, Ali said.

“So it’s not unusual,” Ali said.

This year’s flu season saw fewer hospital visits than expected, Ali said. The 2017-2018 and 2016-2017 flu seasons were worse, according to annual flu reports. One reason the flu was worse in the previous two years was because the H3N2 strain of the flu was dominant, and historically, when that strain is dominant the flu season is worse, according to the report.

In comparison, the 2015-2016 and 2018-2019 season were dominated by the H1N1 strain.

Ali said there were two things to look for with flu: the density, which was lower, and the season, which was slightly longer.

The 2018-2019 season also stood out to Ali because of the different strains. The majority of the season, from October to the end of February, was dominated by the H1N1 strain, which is covered by the flu vaccine.

But toward the end, including this month, the H3N2 strain has dominated. The flu vaccine is less effective against that strain, Ali said.

“Flu has the tendency to change the antigen shape and come back later in the season in a different shape and form,” he said.

Even though the vaccine was less effective against the H3N2 strain, it can lessen the symptoms of the flu, Ali said. Those who contract the flu and have had the flu vaccine generally have milder cases because the flu shot will still provide some immunity.

There were 46 adult deaths and one child death due to influenza in 2018-2019, according to the health department. Hospitalizations are trending down, with a peak around mid-March. Before the first week of March, hospitalizations for the flu at Meritus were lower than expected, Ali said.

There were a total of 3,006 hospitalizations for flu in the state, as of April 6, according to the health department. Last year, there were 4,713.

Until flu season is over, Ali recommends people take precautions, such as washing their hands and not going to public places if they are sick.

Follow Heather Mongilio on Twitter: @HMongilio.

Heather Mongilio is the health and Fort Detrick reporter for the Frederick News-Post. She can be reached at hmongilio@newspost.com.

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