Four Baltimore-area children are the first confirmed cases of seasonal influenza, according to state health officials.
The four children, who are not being identified, are said to be doing well though one was hospitalized, according to a statement released Friday by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The first confirmed case in 2011 was reported on December 30, health officials said.
"Flu is here earlier this year than last year, and we are seeing two different flu strains,” Frances Phillips, deputy secretary of Public Health Services, said in the statement. “This really stresses the importance of getting the flu vaccine, and getting it as soon as possible. Fortunately, there is plenty of vaccine to go around.”
Influenza spreads from person to person through coughing or sneezing and direct contact with infected people and contaminated surfaces or objects. Symptoms usually begin one to four days after being exposed to the virus, and include fever, body aches, fatigue, coughing, and sore throat, according to state health officials, according to the release.
Yearly vaccinations are important because the strains of influenza that circulate change over time.
State health officials recommend the following people be vaccinated:
- Children 6 months to 18 years of age.
- Persons 50 years of age and older.
- Pregnant women.
- Persons of any age with chronic medical conditions.
- Persons undergoing therapy, or with a condition that may weaken their immune systems.
- Persons caring for someone in these groups should also be vaccinated to avoid spreading the disease to them including healthcare workers, household contacts of individuals at risk for complications from the flu, and daycare or school workers.
The heatlh department release offered the following tips to people who believe they have the flu.
- Contact your healthcare provider for management of flu symptoms or treatment of any complications.
- Get rest and drink plenty of fluids.
- Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers and wash your hands often.
- Avoid crowded places like shopping malls or public transportation.
State health officials also urge people to "avoid unnecessary visits to hospitals or other settings where people with other conditions may get your flu and be affected severely. Stay home from work or school whenever possible to avoid spreading the flu to your friends and coworkers."
Weekly updates on influenza activity in the state can be found on the state health department website.
The state has also set-up an internet-based influenza tracking survey to monitor influenza-like illnesses in people "who may not seek medical care," according to the release.
Residents can participate in the influenza survey by signing up on the department website.