With flu cases on the rise in Washington County, Meritus Medical Center officials are asking people not to visit patients in the hospital and the Washington County Health Department plans to hold four flu vaccination clinics over the next two weeks.
Meritus Health issued a press release Friday encouraging people, especially those who have flu-like symptoms or who are vulnerable to the flu, to forego visits to patients in the hospital.
“This is an effort to keep patients and visitors safe,” Meritus Health Communications Manager Nicole Jovel said. “You don’t want to get the flu or give somebody the flu if you have it.”
Jovel said children ages 17 and younger are restricted from visiting patients. She said people vulnerable to the flu include infants and children, senior citizens, and those who already have medical issues.
Although the hospital was not on yellow or red alert Friday afternoon, which occurs when the emergency department or telemetry-monitored beds are full, Jovel said that a High Census Notice was issued by the Administrative Nursing Supervisors for Meritus Medical Center, which means there is high volume of patients in the hospital.
From Dec. 17 through Friday afternoon, Meritus Medical Center has had 2,488 urgent care visits, up from the 2,294 visits during that same period the previous year.
“We have a high number of flu patients,” Jovel said. “Anyone experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms should not come to the hospital.”
As of noon Friday, a total of 373 cases of the flu had been reported to the Washington County Health Department since flu season began around October, Rod MacRae, the department’s Public Information Officer, said.
“Many people don’t necessarily go to the doctor or seek treatment medically or professionally, so the number of confirmed cases is always just a fraction of the actual number,” MacRae said. “This year it seems we’re getting a lot of reporting of widespread outbreaks across the country.”
MacRae said that the severity of the flu outbreak could be a result of people getting complacent and not getting their flu shots due to the minimal outbreaks the previous two flu seasons. However, he also said it was possible the flu is a different strain from the three that this year’s vaccine inoculates against.
“The vaccine itself is basically formulated every year to take on three different strains,” he said. “Once in a while a strain will come along that circulates more widely than anticipated and wasn’t in the vaccine.”
Medical personnel have said they have treated people who had gotten the flu shot but came down with the flu anyway, but MacRae said people should still get the vaccination.
“Usually having gotten the flu shot tends to diminish their flu response so that their course of illness is not as severe,” he said.
The Health Department will hold flu vaccinations at its main building at 1302 Pennsylvania Ave. next Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It will hold another clinic Friday, Jan. 25. All of the clinics will be from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. except on Wednesday, which will be from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
As of 12:30 p.m. Friday, Robinwood Home Care Pharmacy had issued six flu shots that day and 18 during the week, Jovel said. The flu shots there cost $25.
MacRae said that the Health Department has more than 900 doses of the vaccination on hand and that it takes between a week and two weeks for the flu shot to go into effect.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported Friday on its website that a total of 199 people across the state had been hospitalized with flu-related symptoms from Dec. 30 through Jan. 5. The website noted there had been more than 2,000 hospitalizations for flu-like symptoms since early October.
More than 1,800 positive flu tests were reported from 27 clinical laboratories across the state during the week ending Jan. 5, bringing the total number of positive tests for the season up to 6,273, according to a weekly flu report on the department’s website.
“The peak tends to come toward late January and early February, but the peak this year seems to be early January,” MacRae said. “Of course we can’t say until all the numbers are totally in, but we’re seeing a large number of cases for this early in the season.”
The flu outbreak is “widespread” in 47 of 50 states, including Maryland, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Center (CDC), and more than 128 million doses of the seasonal flu vaccine have been distributed. The flu is considered widespread in a state if it affects more than 50 percent of the geographical regions of that state.
Twenty pediatric deaths have been reported nationwide, according to the CDC.