Maryland releases new flu surveillance data dashboard

A new tool released by the Maryland Department of Health tracks flu vaccination rates by area, gender and race and offers more detail with year-over-year comparisons.

The dashboard offers enhanced data visuals, year-over-year comparisons and flu vaccination rates by jurisdiction. The previous dashboard only included standard weekly flu surveillance reporting.

The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) said the online tool comes amid concern about the potential for the state’s health care system to become overwhelmed as the flu season progresses during new surges of coronavirus cases.

“The new dashboard offers more dynamic information about the statistics we monitor every flu season. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the goal is to provide as much data as possible,” said MDH Secretary Robert R. Neall.

“We want the public to have the information they need and the incentive to take appropriate action — get a flu shot, wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance.”

The dashboard shows a weekly view of flu-like illness using several different systems and methods to report.

The data comes from emergency departments and urgent care providers, community-based providers and individuals, clinical labs, the MDH Public Health Laboratory and inpatient hospital stays.

To gather the data, Maryland uses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s U.S. Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network and the Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics to monitor flu-related visits to health care providers.

The state also uses the Maryland Resident Influenza Tracking Survey, which enables those who are experiencing flu symptoms to volunteer to report via email.

The Emerging Infections Program at the department also conducts weekly surveillance for laboratory-confirmed flu-associated hospitalizations among all of Maryland’s 49 acute care hospitals.

“We use a surveillance system to monitor flu activity in Maryland because it’s a faster, more efficient way to identify trends in community transmission and to keep tabs on the burden the flu may cause on our healthcare system,” said MDH Acting Deputy Secretary for Public Health Dr. Jinlene Chan.

“Whereas COVID-19 is an emerging infection, flu is widespread seasonally, therefore, we use established surveillance methods to inform our flu mitigation strategies year after year.”

Flu surveillance data is reported weekly throughout the flu season, from the first week in October through the second week in May.

To date, the 2020-2021 flu season has shown minimal flu activity, with nine reported influenza-associated hospitalizations, two reported flu-related deaths and no reported outbreaks.

The dashboard shows that more than 1.8 million or 31% of Marylanders have been vaccinated for the flu this season.

The flu vaccine is the single most effective way to protect against getting the flu and it can be given at any time during the flu season, according to health officials.

The dashboard is updated weekly on Fridays during the 4 p.m. hour.

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Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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