By Kevin O’Rourke
Many kids and adults in the Germantown area are happy for today’s unexpected snow day, because they are sick in bed with the flu or flu-like symptoms as the Center for Disease Control says the flu remains widespread throughout Maryland.
The flu outbreak has gotten serious enough that Holy Cross Germantown Hospital, as well as Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, have placed temporary restrictions on hospital visitations for the increased protection of patients and staff and to minimize the spread of the flu and flu-like illnesses, according to Yolanda Gaskins, Director of Media Relations for Holy Cross Healthcare.
Pete Piringer, chief information officer for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services has tweeted on numerous occasions over the last seven days that Montgomery County hospitals were on “Blue Alert” meaning that emergency room services were taxed and busy due to extraordinary circumstances associated with flu patients, including many walk-in patients.”
The visitor restrictions at Holy Cross Germantown Hospital including; “Visitors should not be in the building if they have symptoms of the flu. Visiting children under the age of 12 are not allowed in any patient care areas except to see a family member in end-of-life circumstances or to accompany a family member to the Emergency Center. Visitors with obvious signs and symptoms of the flu will be asked to wear a mask.”
“This temporary policy takes effect immediately at both Holy Cross Hospital and Holy Cross Germantown Hospital,” said Gaskins.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has said that during the week ending Dec. 27 “influenza-like illness intensity in Maryland was high and there was widespread geographic activity.” The MDHMD said that 3,538 emergency room visits for influenza-like illness for the week ending Dec. 27 according to data collected through the department’s ESSENCE surveillance system. Of those presenting with flu-like symptoms 1,172 or 33 percent were between the ages 5 and 24, while 901 or 25 percent were between the ages of 25-49.
While Montgomery County schools were off for the holiday break last week, MCPS Public Information Officer, Dana Tofig said MCPS did not see widespread absenteeism on Monday, Jan 5, the first day back from break, but said yesterday “but we will have to see how the rest of the week develops. Prior to the winter break, we did higher-than-usual absentee rates at several schools,” and while it is believed that this was due, at least in part, to flu-related illness it is not confirmed.
“Every year, our schools communicate with parents about the best ways to keep students healthy and to keep illnesses from spreading throughout the school,” said Tofig. “We encourage frequently hand-washing and sanitize public surfaces regularly. Most importantly, we encourage students and staff who are sick to stay home and remain home until they have recovered.”
“We will work with the Department of Health and Human Services to continue to monitor the impact that the flu and other illnesses are having on our schools and will take any reasonable actions to try to keep these illnesses from spreading,” said Tofig.
The CDC recently announced that one of the common flu strains going around has mutated a bit and the current vaccine might not be quite as effective as in years past.
However, Maryland State healthcare officials maintain that it is still important to get vaccinated because even if the vaccine does not prevent the flu, it will significantly reduce the severity of the illness.