Baltimore, Md. – On Feb. 6, the Maryland Department of Health confirmed the first influenza-associated pediatric death in the state for this flu season. Influenza-associated pediatric deaths are required to be reported to the Department, but the Department cannot discuss the specifics of individual cases.

Maryland public health officials have detected a marked increase in influenza activity since mid to late December and are warning the public to take measures to prevent influenza, especially by getting the influenza vaccine. The Department detected its first laboratory-confirmed cases of seasonal influenza in November 2017. Currently, flu activity is categorized as high and widespread with the majority of this increased activity due to influenza type A (H3N2), although type A H1N1 and B strains are also circulating in Maryland. As is the case every season, this year’s influenza vaccine formulation has coverage of strains of both type A and B influenza.

“Influenza is an extremely serious, and sometimes deadly, disease, and this flu season has been proven to be particularly severe,” said Dr. Howard Haft, deputy secretary for Public Health Services. “We’re continuing to urge Marylanders to get their flu shots, stay home from work if they are sick, and practice other preventative measures to stop the spread of flu.”

Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease that may lead to serious complications, hospitalization, or even death. The virus that causes influenza spreads from person to person through coughing or sneezing, as well as through direct contact with infected people and contaminated surfaces or objects. Common symptoms include fever, body aches, fatigue, coughing, and sore throat. Symptoms usually begin one to four days after being exposed to the virus. According to the CDC, clinicians should encourage all persons with influenza-like illness who are at high risk for influenza complications to seek care promptly to determine if treatment with influenza antiviral medications is warranted. 

The influenza vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your family from becoming ill with influenza. Yearly vaccinations are important because the strains of influenza that circulate change over time. The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months get the flu vaccine. It is not too late to get vaccinated, and Maryland residents are urged to get protected now by contacting their health care provider, local health department, or neighborhood pharmacy to schedule an appointment.

The CDC recommends you take the following steps to help prevent catching the flu:     
Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
Practice other good health habits such as these:
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.
Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.
If you believe you are ill with influenza:

Contact your healthcare provider for management of flu symptoms or treatment of any complications. Call them if you have high fever, difficulty breathing, or other severe symptoms.
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
Get rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers and wash your hands often.
Stay home from work, school, running errands, and visiting friends or relatives when you are sick – especially those who are in hospitals or nursing homes. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.

Maryland has an Internet-based Maryland Resident Influenza Tracking Survey (MRITS) to enhance the Department of Health’s existing influenza surveillance by monitoring influenza-like illnesses among residents who might not seek medical care. Please volunteer! Sign up online to receive online surveys where you can report any flu-like symptoms each week.

For more information about the seriousness of seasonal influenza and the benefits of vaccination, visit the CDC’s influenza page, flu prevention page, or call CDC at 800-CDC-INFO. Stay up-to-date on influenza activity in Maryland by visiting the Maryland FluWatch page for weekly updates.