In the second to last week of 2018, the rates of influenza-like illnesses being reported in outpatient clinics in Maryland were some of the highest in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
But in the last week of 2018, leading up to the new year, the CDC found that flu-like activity to be minimal. What gives?
“The stats can be confusing and are bouncing around, because we have relatively low rates of flu right now,” said Dr. Henry Taylor, deputy health officer at the Carroll County Health Department. “But the flu is just around the corner.”
Numerous indicators, such as emergency department visits and percentage of lab-confirmed flu cases, suggest that this flu season may be lagging behind those of recent years, but will likely ultimately follow a similar pattern, with more illness spreading over the next month.
“Based on previous trends, we know there is going to be an increase and we are seeing an increase in some of the indicators, but we are fortunate we haven’t hit it yet,” Taylor said. “That’s really good news for the community, because it means it’s not too late to get your shot.”
A flu shot can begin to provide some protection immediately, and will provide protection for the rest of the flu season, according to Taylor. The flu season in Carroll County can last into April.
Though it is an annual epidemic, Taylor said, recent history suggests the flu season should not be taken lightly.
“Last year we had a pretty severe flu season and nationally there were a lot of deaths, particularly among children,” he said. “It hit folks hard.”
The CDC reported 185 U.S. children died due to the flu in the 2017-2018 season, with approximately 80 percent of those deaths in children who had not been vaccinated.
The predominant strain last year, the H1N1 flu strain, is again the most common across the country and in Carroll County. It can cause more severe illness among high-risk groups, including those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, compromised immune systems, children and the elderly.
But flu shots are important for healthy adults as well, according to Maggie Kunz, a health planner with the health department.
“By getting the flu vaccine, healthy adults help protect others who are more susceptible to the flu and complications from the flu, such as older adults and young children, and friends and family members with chronic illnesses,” she said. “Even healthy adults can die from the flu.”
All the flu vaccines on the market, trivalent, quadrivalent, FluMist nasal spray and high dose trivalent are all formulated to provide protection from the H1N1 strain, according to Taylor.
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The health department maintains a flu website where more information can be found on the flu, and where to get a flu shot, at cchd.maryland.gov/flu.