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Flu bug may have peaked

January 31, 2000|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Washington County has had three documented influenza cases, but the bug's reign is on the wane, according to Health Officer Robert Parker.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently indicated the flu season's peak has passed, according to Parker. He said Maryland and Washington County are following the same pattern.

"We're hoping the worst is over," Parker said.

Flu season generally runs from late December to March or April, but its duration varies. CDC tracks the viruses and reports intense periods of flu activity or outbreaks.

Nationwide, the flu struck earlier than expected this year. In Maryland, the number of cases confirmed by laboratory tests jumped from 16 on Dec. 22 to 66 on Jan. 6. Hospitals across the state were swamped with patients with flu-like illnesses.

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In the past two years, outbreaks came later, toward the end of January or February, according to Parker. This year's season peaked quickly and may drop off faster, he said.

"The flu does different things each year," Parker said. Weather, the number of vaccinations given to residents and the different strains of flu can affect the season's outcome.

The flu is caused by a virus that infects the respiratory tract. It is usually spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes the virus into the air.

Influenza infection can cause severe illness and lead to serious and life-threatening complications in all age groups.

Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, body aches and extreme fatigue.

The CDC reported last week that this season's peak probably came in the next-to-last week of December 1999. In Washington County, three cases were documented in early January.

They were confirmed by tests in early January and the last results came on Jan. 12. The cases included two people in a nursing home and one in a hospital, Parker said.

None of the county's schools has reported absentee rates of 10 percent or higher since Jan. 11. "That seems to be another indicator in our area that the season may be slacking off somewhat," Parker said.

Each year, researchers develop different vaccines to combat different strains of the flu virus. This year's effort was successful, according to Parker.

"It looks like the vaccine was a good match for the flu this year," he said.

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