By Sharmina Manandhar and Megan E. Gustafson
WASHINGTON – Eleven more H1N1-related deaths have been reported in Maryland, bringing the state’s total to 30, according to the Maryland Public Health Services, but there is evidence the illness is in decline here.
“It looks like a big jump,” but the majority of the deaths occurred earlier, “a month ago,” and were under investigation, said Deputy Secretary Frances Phillips.
Despite the increased number of deaths and “widespread” flu activity in Maryland, several indicators show that the flu is in “steady decline,” Phillips said.
She described the flu activity in Maryland as a “mixed picture,” with most of the indicators going down.
Both the number of people who visited emergency rooms with influenza-like illnesses and the number of people admitted to hospitals for flu-like symptoms have decreased, according to Phillips.
However, the percentage of positive flu tests in laboratory reports “crept up a little” while the percentage of people visiting doctors for flu-like illnesses “leveled off,” Phillips said.
The influenza-like illnesses are not confirmed H1N1 cases, but that diagnosis is “extremely likely” because only three confirmed seasonal flu cases have been reported in the past three weeks, Phillips said.
“The seasonal flu typically doesn’t kick up until late January,” Phillips said.
The decline in the number of Marylanders sick with the 2009 novel H1N1 virus was also highlighted by Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John M. Colmers at a Maryland House of Delegates hearing in Annapolis Tuesday.
“Perhaps we are at the other side of this,” Colmers said to the Health and Government Operations Committee.
However, he later cautioned that because the H1N1 virus is new and has previously shown some curious behavior — for example, it stayed around over the summer, a time of year when influenza doesn’t normally circulate — it’s difficult to predict what will happen as the typical height of the flu season approaches after the first of the year.
For now, the numbers appear to be going in the right direction, Colmers said.
Fifty-three people were hospitalized for influenza last week, according to the data from the department’s MarylandFluWatch.org. The week before, that number was well over 100.
Interest in H1N1 vaccinations has not gone down with the decreased flu activity, according to Phillips.
“There continues to be very strong demand (for H1N1 vaccines),” Phillips said. “We are not seeing any tapering of the interest.”
Maryland has received “just short of a million doses” of H1N1 vaccines so far, according to Phillips.
“We hoped to have 1 million doses by the end of October,” Phillips said. “So we are at least three weeks behind.”
The shortage has caused vaccine seekers to wait in long lines hours before the vaccine clinics are scheduled to open. The Montgomery County flu clinics at the end of October closed less than an hour after opening when demand far outpaced supply.