A pharmacist places boxes of Tamiflu medicine, used to treat the H1N1 strain of flu, on a shelf in her Sydney pharmacy May 29, 2009. (REUTERS/Tim Wimborne
Hospital emergency rooms and doctor’s offices across the Washington region are reporting a higher-than-normal number of flu cases during a time of year when such infections are rare, a signal that the H1N1 virus continues to spread.
Officials at Washington Adventist Hospital said they have seen 68 flu cases in June compared with 11 in May. Officials at Inova Health systems say they have treated more flu cases during a single week this month than during the peak week of flu season in February. Many of those being treated are school-age children, officials said.
“It’s like snow in the summer,” said Gaurov Dayal, chief medical officer at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, which has also reported a higher-than-normal number of flu cases, more than half of which were confirmed to be H1N1. “We typically don’t see flu at all this time of year.”
Medical experts say the unusually high number of cases might be due in part to increased vigilance among the public and health officials because of the attention given to H1N1. The new strain has perplexed medical researchers who are studying its potential long-term effects. They theorize that younger patients may be getting infected at higher rates because they may not have developed immunity to the strain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent surveillance report for June 14-20 said there had been a higher than normal number of flu cases nationally for this time of year. The federal authorities said it’s too early to tell whether those who contract H1N1 now will be immune in fall when the flu season kicks into high gear.
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“Even with the seasonal flu, people can get re-infected,” said CDC spokeswoman Shelly Sikes Diaz. “We just don’t know yet with H1N1.”
H1N1 symptoms are similar to the typical flu and include fever, cough and sore throat. Medical experts said those who are especially susceptible to the flu — the young, elderly and those with underlying health problems — should see a doctor if they have symptoms.
Dayal said officials at Shady Grove Adventist saw 63 flu cases in June, 42 of which tested positive for H1N1. Nine of the patients had to be hospitalized, all of them children with underlying health conditions who recovered. Of the 68 flu cases at Washington Adventist in June, 54 were confirmed H1N1 infections. Officials at Washington Hospital Center said they have seen a slight uptick in the number of cases this month, but nothing dramatic.
There are 567 confirmed cases of H1N1 in Maryland. Officials reported the first H1N1-related death last week. The victim was an elderly Baltimore area woman who also had underlying health issues. There has been one death believed to be connected to H1N1 in Virginia, where there were 224 confirmed cases as of last week.
Health officials said the unusually high number of cases is a reminder that the public must continue to be vigilant. People should remember to wash their hands, cover their coughs and stay home from work, school or summer camps if they feel ill.
Fran Phillips, Maryland’s deputy secretary for public health, said state laboratories continued to screen the virus for mutations or resistance to flu treatments such as Tamiflu. Yesterday, Reuters reported that the manufacturer of Tamiflu, one of the main drugs used to fight H1N1, said it had discovered the first case in the world of a patient, a Danish man, who developed resistance to the drug.