influenza viruses

(Feb. 7, 2020) The flu has arrived on schedule in Worcester County this winter, with the number of cases diagnosed by Atlantic General Hospital slightly up from last year. According to Nicole Morris, infectious control supervisor, this is a normal cyclical occurrence. 

So far this season, the hospital has diagnosed 181 flu cases, as compared to the 143 cases seen at this time last year. This year’s inpatient case total is currently nine, whereas the last year to date was four. 

This year’s cases are split almost evenly between the two different strains – influenza A and influenza B, which Morris said is unusual. She said that the season generally starts with a few Bs, and then the hospital starts to see more As, and then returns to more B cases at the end of flu season. 

Atlantic General’s first case of the flu last year was diagnosed on Oct. 22, but the first case this year was Sept. 17. 

“It started earlier this year, but it’s been more sporadic,” Morris said. “we’re starting to see a lot more now.” 

Morris mentioned that recognized preventative measures include proper hand washing and cough etiquette, but the most important is the flu vaccination. 

“The one thing you don’t get your statistics for is if they’re vaccinated,” Morris said. 

The flu vaccination protects against four different types of flu – two As and two Bs. The Center for Control and Disease determines the exact chemical make-up based on the previous year. 

Although the vaccination is not always 100 percent effective, it does reduce the flu between 40 and 60 percent among the population when the virus and the vaccine are closely matched, according to the Center for Control and Disease. 

Morris said that there is still time to get the vaccination, especially since the flu season is growing. 

“We went through May last year,” Morris said. “It’s been extended year after year. You see cases later and later. Last year, our last case was June 15.” 

She pointed out that the June case was more random, while most ended around the beginning of May last year. Aside from Atlantic General, people can get the vaccination at most retail pharmacies and some family doctors. 

Another precaution that Atlantic General is watching for is the coronavirus. The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, was declared to be a public health emergency by the World Health Organization last week. 

Though the death toll in China has reached just over 400, with over 20,000 confirmed cases, the United States has only confirmed 12 cases in five states and zero deaths, according to the World Health Organization and the Center for Control and Disease. 

Even so, Morris said that Atlantic General is taking all precautions. 

“We’re starting your screening process as soon as you hit the door,” Morris said. 

One of the screening questions is if the patient has been out of the country within the last two weeks. Morris said that since coronavirus spreads within six feet, anyone being screened will be masked. 

“With the mask, we can protect others around them,” Morris said. 

If Atlantic General needed to test a patient, it would send the samples to the Center for Disease and Control for a diagnoses. Maryland currently does not have any confirmed cases, but does have one pending.

Morris said that coronavirus and the flu are similar in both how they spread and in what the symptoms are – fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. She encouraged the public to take the same precautions for coronavirus as they would for the flu. 

“I know the CDC is working diligently to control it, just like the SARS outbreak,” Morris said.

Elizabeth covers Worcester County issues for Ocean City Today. In 2018, she graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa with a bachelor of arts. After graduation, Elizabeth spent a year with Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Wilmington, Delaware.

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