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So far, flu skips county

January 18, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

The flu has made its way into Maryland, but Washington County has been immune to the bug so far, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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Four cases of influenza have been confirmed in Maryland, in Carroll and Caroline counties and in Baltimore City, according to the state agency.

The first case was diagnosed at the end of December at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, said Washington County Health Officer Dr. Robert Parker.

County residents aren't in the clear yet because flu season extends through the end of February, and sometimes into March.

Parker said that last January a strain of the virus struck that was resistant to the vaccine, Parker said.

"There is a little guesswork in preparing the vaccines ahead of time," said Parker. "No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but it still provides significant protection."

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More people got flu shots in the Tri-State area this year, something health officials say could be contributing to the minimal impact of the flu so far.

If the current vaccines fit the virus strains that are circulating, the number of flu cases could remain low throughout the season, Parker said.

In West Virginia, only one case of influenza had been confirmed since Jan. 1, according to Carl Berryman, an epidemiologist with the Division of Surveillance and Disease Control for the Bureau of Public Health.

That case of Type A influenza was diagnosed in Harpers Ferry on Jan. 7, he said.

Staff from the Washington County Health Department administered some 5,000 flu shots during clinics earlier in the season, said Parker. The total of countywide vaccinations won't be tallied until the end of January, he said.

The Cumberland Valley Immunization Coalition in Pennsylvania tallied the estimated number of flu shots given throughout the season at doctors' offices, hospitals, senior citizens' centers, community sites, the state health center and through employee services, said State Health Nurse Ann Baker, who spearheaded the immunization effort.

She said some 26,000 shots were given throughout Franklin County.

"That's a good barrier of protection," said Baker. There have been no confirmed cases at the health center, she added.

The State Health Center and affiliated agencies in Fulton County, Pa., doled out 738 shots this season, an increase from last season of more than 100, said State Health Nurse Vickie Gordon. She said there have been no confirmed flu cases there.

The Berkeley County Health Department in West Virginia administered some 2,000 flu shots this season, said Nursing Director Elaine Renner. She said there have been no confirmed cases of flu in that county.

The nursing staff at the Jefferson County Health Department in West Virginia gave some 700 flu shots this season, said Chief Nurse Nancy Stolipher. County physicians have reported 137 cases of flu-like illness since Jan. 1, she said. But the state reported only one confirmed case, in Harpers Ferry.

During the 1997-98 flu season, Washington County health agencies gave more than 10,000 flu shots, said Parker.

Last year, the number of confirmed cases remained minimal until a new version of the virus, subtype A/Sydney, peaked at the end of January, Parker said.

This year's vaccine protects against types A/Sydney, A/Beijing and B/Harbin.

Parker said the vaccine offers 50 percent to 60 percent protection for older people and 80 percent to 90 percent protection for younger people.

"I strongly advise those people who haven't gotten flu shots to get them," he said.

Anyone at high risk should get a flu shot annually because the virus strains change every year and the vaccine's protection wears off after several months, said Dr. Martin P. Wasserman, secretary of Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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