Prince George's County hospitals are seeing an increase in patients with flu-like symptoms as the number of influenza cases across the state and the country rises and health officials gear up for a flu season that could be the one of the worst in a decade.
The amount of cases is putting a strain on county hospitals.
"We've seen an increased amount of patients in the ER with flu-like symptoms," Prince George's Hospital Center spokeswoman Erika Murray said. "That impacts the ER with longer waits and reduced beds."
The flu is spreading earlier and faster than usual in the Washington, DC region this year, The Washington Post reported, and Maryland is experiencing widespread cases.
In Maryland so far this season, 2,362 people have tested positive for the flu, according to The Baltimore Sun. But since many patients are treated for flu-like symptoms without being tested, the number is likely much higher, said Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.
The strain infecting people this year tends to be associated with more severe symptoms, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Across Maryland, flu-related emergency room visits total 8,332 so far this year, according to the Sun.
This year’s flu season started sooner, is hitting harder and is more widespread than usual. Health officials say that Maryland is among the states on track to have one of the worst influenza seasons in recent years, although flu is notoriously hard to predict.
Many flu victims are infected by more than one virus strain, according to a University of Maryland study.
“This may be an important factor driving the high attack rate right now,” said Donald Milton, a doctor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.“Co-infection with more than one virus may make both of the viruses more contagious than either would be alone.”
The most prevalent strain this year, influenza A (H3N2), is causing more severe symptoms than influenza B alone, but many people have simultaneous influenza A and B infections or a combination of influenza B and another virus called respiratory syncytial virus, according to the study.
With several months still left in the flu season, doctors are encouraging residents to get vaccinated.
“I believe with the early upswing in cases and the type of strain that we are seeing, this is definitely gearing up to be a bad year," Dr. Andrea Dugas, an emergency room physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital, told The Sun.