WASHINGTON – Maryland’s flu season got off to a late start, but has been making up for lost time at a feverish pace over the past two weeks, according to state health officials.
More than two-thirds of the state’s flu cases this season have been reported in the last two weeks, according to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The health department reported 51 confirmed influenza cases last week and 60 in the week before, out of a total of 154 cases reported in Maryland this year.
While that is down from the 236 reported last year at this time, state health officials are quick to point out that the flu season started six to seven weeks later this year, in part due to a mild fall.
“The flu may have started a little late, but it’s more than made up for it,” said Dr. Stephen Feldman, a Towson pediatrician.
Feldman, who said the intensity of this year’s flu season seems worse than last, has been seeing patients with two types of flu as well as a flu-related intestinal virus common in babies and young children.
Dale Rohn, an epidemiologist with Maryland’s Epidemiology and Disease Control Program, said he does not like to predict how one flu season will stack up with others until the season ends, but that he anticipates this year’s will be moderate to severe.
Rohn said that flu cases “are going on across the state, it’s widespread.”
But three counties have reported particularly high numbers of outbreaks to date: Washington County has reported seven flu outbreaks this season while Baltimore and Montgomery counties have each reported six.
Rohn said an outbreak is defined one of two ways: One lab-confirmed flu case in a nursing home is an outbreak, as well as a cluster of three patients anywhere else with flu-like symptoms.
Tori Leonard, a state health department spokeswoman, said that the number of reported flu cases does not really give a clear picture of just how sick the state is.
That’s because doctors and hospitals are not required to report flu cases, she said. Even if they were, said Leonard, many doctors rely on their own judgment to diagnose patients with flu-like symptoms rather than sending them for tests that likely would not come back before patients starting feeling better.
Dr. Martin Liss with Secure Medical Care in Gaithersburg echoed Leonard, saying he does not usually send his patients for confirmation tests.
“I’ve seen a lot of patients saying, `I ache from my head to my toes.’ That’s a good sign you’ve got the flu,” Liss said.
He said that for the past two to three weeks he has been seeing one to two dozen patients a day with flu-like symptoms or post-flu symptoms such as bronchitis.
Feldman said that his office has been bustling with patients with the flu and flu-like symptoms during the past two to three weeks, but that the number of cases is finally beginning to level off.
Dr. Sacared Bodison, with the University of Maryland’s Health Center, also said that following a “crash of patients” over the past two weeks the numbers are “waning some” now.