As the state reported its first lab-confirmed flu cases Tuesday, local health officials recommend county residents get their flu vaccine as soon as possible.
Two laboratory-confirmed cases of seasonal influenza have been diagnosed in an adult and a child in the central and Eastern Shore regions, the Maryland Department of Health announced Tuesday. The flu strains for the two confirmed cases are type A (H1) and Type B (Victoria).
Flu, short for influenza, is a contagious respiratory disease that costs the nation billions of dollars in lost productivity and adverse health costs every year. Besides causing fever, body aches, fatigue, coughing and a sore throat, flu could lead to complications and even death.
Because the strains of influenza that circulate change from year to year, residents are recommended to get yearly vaccinations. And the best time to do it is now.
The flu season predominantly lasts from early October to late April. Nationwide, a flu-related death has already been reported in Florida.
A child in Florida, who did not receive the flu vaccination and did not have an underlying medical condition, died recently, according to Florida health officials. The child’s death was the first influenza-related pediatric death reported in the country this flu season.
“It’s a real illness. It’s a real risk,” St. Mary’s County Health Officer Dr. Meena Brewster said by phone this week.
Brewster said it is too early to tell the trend this year, but this flu season has already had an early start as there were influenza cases diagnosed long before the confirmed cases reported by the state this week.
“Just like last year, we expect this to be a strong flu season,” she said.
Last school year, St. Mary’s public schools saw a tenfold increase in the number of students absent from school due to the flu compared to the previous year.
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rated the last flu season “a high severity season” that left 183 children dead and more than 700,000 people hospitalized across the nation. CDC said 80 percent of the children who died in the last flu season did not receive a flu vaccination.
“One is too many,” said Melanie Gardiner, community health nurse program supervisor at the Charles County Health Department, by phone last week. “Absolutely be vaccinated. Everybody needs to be vaccinated so we can prevent flu in the community.”
While the success rate of flu vaccines varies from year to year, health experts emphasize it is the best protection against a potentially deadly illness.
Calvert Health Officer Dr. Larry Polsky said by phone last week that people may still get the flu after being vaccinated, but the symptoms are more likely to be less severe and the durations shorter.
Since flu is a highly contagious illness, Polsky stressed getting vaccinated not only protects people’s own health but also reduces the chance of passing it to others, especially more vulnerable people who have compromised immune systems.
Unlike the previous two years, CDC recommends a nasal spray called FluMist for women who are not pregnant and those who are between 2 and 49 years of age. People with some medical conditions should not receive the nasal spray flu vaccine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, recommends all eligible children receive a traditional flu shot as the first choice and reserve the nasal spray for children who refuse the shot but agree to get the spray.
“We are not gonna pick sides between two expert groups,” Polsky said. “For anyone who is eligible for the mist, if that’s their preference, they should talk to their primary care doctor to see if that’s a good choice.”
Other preventative measures include washing hands often, especially after coughing, sneezing, nose blowing or wiping, and covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing.
Residents can get flu vaccines at their primary care doctor’s office, some local pharmacies and their local health department, as well as immunization clinics hosted by health departments in the region.
The upcoming Charles County Health Department immunization clinics are:
• Thursday, Nov. 1, 3 to 7 p.m., Piccowaxen Middle School, 12834 Rock Point Road, Newburg.
• Saturday, Nov. 3, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Charles County Dept. of Health, 4545 Crain Highway, White Plains.
• Thursday, Nov. 8, 4 to 7 p.m., Smallwood Middle School, 4990 Indian Head Highway, Indian Head.
• Tuesday, Nov. 13, 3 to 7 p.m., Thomas Stone High School, 3785 Leonardtown Road, Waldorf.
• Thursday, Dec. 13, 3 to 7 p.m., Charles County Dept. of Health, 4545 Crain Highway, White Plains.
For additional information about flu clinics, go to www.CharlesCountyHealth.org, or call the Charles County Department of Health at 301-609-6900.