WASHINGTON — People with flu-like symptoms are flocking to area doctor’s offices and hospitals in what has proven to be a very rough flu season.
In the D.C. area, state health departments are reporting widespread case of influenza.
“We’re seeing more flu in D.C. then we have in previous years,” said Dr. Preetha Iyengar of the District Department of Health.
In the District, close to 400 confirmed cases of the season’s 624 so far were reported in the first two weeks of January.
In Maryland, the second week of January saw the highest week of flu activity this season. According to the Maryland Department of Health, 208 people tested positive for the flu. Of those who were hospitalized because of the sickness, 59 percent were over the age of 65.
For Virginia, the second week of January saw the highest number of cases this season, with close to 160 confirmed cases, according to the Virginia Department of Health. That number is still less than the peak of last year’s flu season, which in February saw around 200 cases in one week in the commonwealth.
Dr. Erik Schobitz, an emergency pediatric physician at Shady Grove Medical Center in Montgomery County, Maryland, said the emergency room has been busy, with varying levels of severity in patients.
“It runs the whole gamut, from just a mild influenza case to someone who needs lifesaving care,” said Schobitz.
For sufferers, the symptoms include fever, cough, congestion and trouble breathing, he said.
One cause for the widespread flu outbreak nationwide is believed to be the strain of influenza that is most prevalent: H3N2. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that strain is the top one so far this season.
“Typically, the coverage for the vaccine isn’t as great for H3N2, but getting vaccinated has other benefits,” Iyengar said.
The illness is especially hard on certain populations, Schobitz said: the very young, the very old and people with respiratory problems. “If someone was already a severe asthmatic and gets it, it’s concerning,” he said.
Around the nation, there have been reports of children dying from the illness. So far, no pediatric deaths have been reported in the D.C. area.
Several other strains are also showing up in testing, which is why Schobitz and Iyengar believe people who haven’t had the flu vaccine should still get vaccinated.