In what has been described by officials at the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention as the worst flu season in the past decade, Maryland ranks among the top five states hit hardest by the virus. As a result, hospitals and clinics have treated more than 15,000 people, with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reporting that most of the victims have been over age 65.
The dreaded flu season, which the CDC reported as having started a month earlier, has been attacking its victims with a stronger strain, and the most persistent symptoms have been body aches, fevers and sore throats.
"The symptoms seem to be lingering for several days or weeks, forcing people to seek medical attention," Dr. Jonathan Hansen, chair of emergency medicine at Franklin Square Medical Center – Baltimore's busiest emergency room, said in an interview. "Some years the symptoms are less pronounced, and this year it seems to be more severe," he said, in explaining why some patients have been sicker longer with symptoms that have also included diarrhea and vomiting.
The CDC has also stated in reports that more than seven percent of deaths that occurred across the country the first week of this year were caused by pneumonia and the flu, which has attributed to the outbreak having reached an epidemic level.
While treatment for outbreak of the unpredictable virus is being tackled in Maryland, officials in the nearby District of Columbia have been closely tracking cases.
As of late last week, more than 300 incidents of the flu had been recorded in the city, compared to 97 last season.
However, Mayor Vincent C. Gray, 70, insists the matter hasn't gotten out of hand.
"We don't know of an epidemic in the city at this stage," Gray said in a Friday, Jan. 11 interview with reporters. "There have been no suggestions [that] we need any changes around how we are addressing it at this point."
With the inclusion of Maryland and the District, 47 states are dealing with widespread outbreaks. The only states that haven't reported outbreaks are California, Mississippi and Hawaii.
According to the CDC, the best way to prevent the flu is through vaccination, and it recommends shots for anyone over the age of 6 months.
The agency also reports that African-American adults are less likely than non-Hispanic white adults to have received the flu vaccine in the past year, and that older blacks have been more reluctant to get vaccinated.
To that end, District residents Louis Hicks, 61, and Kim Harrison, 49, have differing views on what's right for them.
"I have family and friends who take the shots faithfully," said Harrison. "But I don't take them because I had an allergic reaction when I was a little girl. I'm not sure if the ingredients that they use for the vaccines have changed that much [however] I just refuse to get them."
Hicks, on the other hand, strongly believes in the shots.
"I haven't had mine for this [season], but I plan to get it soon because of the way the media has been emphasizing that we take it," Hicks said. "I like to err on the side of caution, and because of that, I generally get vaccinated through my health provider . . . If I can't get in within a few days, I will go to my local pharmacy."