Flu season has come early to Maryland.
The Maryland Department of Health is already reporting 11 laboratory-confirmed cases since Sept. 1. State health officials said the onset of flu only emphasizes the need for a flu shot.
“Get your flu shot now. Don’t put it off,” said Maryland Secretary of Health Robert Neall, in a news release announcing the first flu cases of the season.
“It takes about a couple of weeks for the vaccination to be effective, and so that’s why we’re recommending people go ahead and get vaccinated starting now, just because we know there is flu around,” said Dr. David Blythe, the director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Outbreak Response Bureau with the Maryland Department of Health.
The health department said it is unclear if the early flu season is any indication of whether this will be a particularly bad season for flu.
“I wish we could predict from this what this means for the upcoming flu season, but we really can’t, unfortunately. But it does tell us that flu, as we speak, is here in Maryland, so it’s not too early to get vaccinated against flu,” Blythe said.
The influenza virus is spread through coughing and sneezing, as well as contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces or objects. Common symptoms include fever, body aches, fatigue, coughing and sore throat. Although most cases are mild, influenza can lead to serious complications and even death.
Most of the 11 cases reported so far are influenza A (H3N2) with a few influenza B. The vaccine protects against both.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends influenza vaccine for everyone six months of age and older.
“Getting the flu shot is particularly important for people who are at risk of getting [flu-related] complications and for those people who are caring for or live with those people who are at risk of getting complications,” Blythe said.
Those at high risk for influenza-related complications include:
- Children 6 months through 5 years old
- People over 50 years old
- Adults and children who have chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, neurological, hematologic or metabolic disorders
- People who are immunocompromised
- Women who are or will become pregnant during the flu season
- Children and adolescents who are receiving aspirin- or salicylate-containing medications and who might be at risk for Reye syndrome after influenza virus infection
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- People who are extremely obese (body mass index more than 40 for adults)
“We’re urging everybody in Maryland to get their flu shot as soon as they can,” Blythe said.