Carroll hospitals, like others in state, seeing flu increase

Rise in cases noted within past few weeks

February 13, 2005|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

This winter's influenza has officially hit Carroll County, as in the rest of Maryland, officials said.

The county has seen an increase in flu-like symptoms in the past two to three weeks, said Debbie Middleton, the county Health Department's program director for communicable diseases.

"It's everywhere," she said. "We've noted an increase - probably in the last two to three weeks - like the rest of the state."

Although influenza is not a reportable disease for which figures must be kept, Middleton said, "We know we have had an increase in flu or flu-like symptoms in the county."

The department held its last flu-vaccine clinic Jan. 31, she said.

Mary Spiro, a public relations specialist at Carroll Hospital Center, said the emergency department's clinical director reported being "overwhelmed" in the past week with patients coming in with gastrointestinal and upper-respiratory problems.

"Most of the EDs in the region are on yellow alert because of the flu," Spiro said, adding that Carroll's emergency department medical director, Dr. David Crane, called this the peak of the flu season.

The Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems announced Tuesday that emergency rooms throughout the state were nearing capacity, with a significant increase in the number of patient visits.

This placed many on "yellow alert" status, according to the announcement, which means a hospital is experiencing a temporary overload and asks that ambulances go to another hospital, if possible. This does not apply to seriously ill or injured patients.

Influenza activity is reported every Friday on the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Web site. The outbreak was characterized as regional as of Dec. 25 and became widespread since the week ending Jan. 8.

"We're currently `widespread,' since about a month ago," said Greg Reed, program manager for the Maryland Center for Immunization at the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Some flu vaccine still is available, he said.

While the flu is not an illness that must be reported, Reed said, many facilities must report outbreaks of three or more cases - including day care centers, prisons, hospitals, schools and nursing homes.

In Carroll, Middleton said, "We've had several long-term care facilities that have had respiratory outbreaks."

This includes several nursing homes in the county, she said. They have taken measures to curb the spread of the disease, such as limiting activities, restricting admissions and visitors, coordinating staff to limit contact and serving meals in the rooms, she said.

A few Health Department employees also have come down with the signature symptoms: body aches, dry cough or upper-respiratory problems, fatigue and fever.

To avoid spreading the flu, people should stay out of crowds, wash hands thoroughly, cover mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing and stay at home if they become ill, Middleton said.

"The flu is really bad," she said.

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