- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Maryland health officials have reported more than 10 times more flu cases this season than last season.

“There have been 2,055 lab-confirmed cases reported in Maryland so far this season,” said J.B. Hanson, deputy director for Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Health. “In comparison, the total of confirmed cases for the entire 2002 to 2003 flu season was 147.”

Mr. Hanson said there is no particular reason for the exponential increase in flu cases this season. “It’s just been a very bad year throughout the country, plain and simple,” he said. The flu outbreak “hit heavier and hit earlier.”

Maryland health officials have begun seeing fewer flu reports and have lowered the state’s flu activity level from widespread to local.

In Virginia, where the flu was widespread, data from 72 physicians statewide have indicated a decline in reports of flu cases, said Michelle Stoll, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.

However, she said the figures can be misleading because many of the reporting doctors cut their office hours during the holiday season and might have seen fewer patients.

“We’ve seen decreased flu activity over the last three weeks,” Miss Stoll said. Virginia’s flu activity, she said, “is now at the regional level, but we anticipate the flu season going strong into March. We still encourage those considered to be at high risk to get the [vaccination].”

Miss Stoll said 13 Virginians have died as a result of the flu this season, compared with 18 last year. “But often, flu-related deaths are not reported until long after [death].”

One flu-related death — that of a 3-year-old Baltimore boy — has been reported in Maryland, which had 13 such deaths last season.

No flu-related deaths have been reported in the District.

The D.C. Department of Health (DOH) announced last week that 148 lab-confirmed cases of influenza have been reported from Oct. 1 through Jan. 5. Influenza activity in the District is monitored through an extensive citywide system of surveillance sites.

“DOH continues to encourage residents to use basic hygiene as an effective measure for reducing the spread of influenza,” said Director James A. Buford. “The department continues to offer flu vaccine at our express immunization clinics.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 93 flu-related deaths of children this season. The CDC estimates that about 92 children younger than 5 die each year as a result of the flu.

About 114,000 Americans are hospitalized and 36,000 die as a result of the flu each year, according to CDC estimates.

Flu season runs from October to May.

Symptoms, which include muscle aches and fever, come on quickly and resemble those of a bad cold — stuffy nose, sore throat, coughs, chills and headache.

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