BALTIMORE (WJZ)– This year’s first cases of the flu virus are confirmed in Maryland and it’s already landed one local child in the hospital.

Monique Griego explains why health officials are particularly concerned about this flu season.

The first four cases were reported in Baltimore. Doctors say this is an early start to the flu season. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) said the first flu case was reported on Dec. 30, 2011.

A bad case of the flu can put you or a loved one down for days.

“It was pretty terrible. He was sick for quite a few days– fever, cold symptoms, all of it,” Marsha Zabarkes, a Towson resident, said of her son.

And this year, the flu virus is striking early in Maryland.

State health leaders say four cases have already been confirmed in Baltimore. All were reported in children and one ended up in the hospital.

“This is a flu for some people that can be relatively mild and for other people can become a very serious illness,” Fran Phillips, the Deputy Secretary of Public Health with the DHMH, said.

“It’s definitely spread person to person,” said Dr. Kathleen Mathey, a family physician at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC), said.

Mathey said getting vaccinated is the single most effective way people can protect themselves. She’s urging everyone, and especially those in high risk groups, to get their shot.

“People over the age of 65, children, people with asthma, diabetes, some of those other chronic diseases,” she explained.

The DHMH said it is important to get the flu vaccine every year because the strains of the virus change over time. This year’s virus is targeted toward the most common strains this season– the Type A/California (like the H1N1), Type A/Victoria (like the H3N2) and Type B/Wisconsin.

For many parents, a flu diagnosis:

“It makes everybody panic,” Kara Leborys of Towson said. “Wash your hands, the Lysol, the germs.”

Mathey says more than 30,000 people a year die from the seasonal flu but it only takes a few easy steps to stop the virus from spreading.

“Making sure to wash you hands, cover your mouth when you cough,” she said. “Don’t go out when you have a fever so you protect some of your friends and neighbors.”

And of course, get your family vaccinated.

“We actually got our shot last week so we’re set, ready to go,” Zabarkes said.

Doctors say while there’s been shortages in the past, there is plenty of flu vaccine to go around this year.

A flu vaccine is recommended for everyone over the age of six months.

The DHMH said the first flu case was reported on Dec. 30, 2011, signaling that the flu is here earlier this year. The health department has identified two strains of the virus– Type A (H3N2) and Type B. Three of the children affected had Type A influenza.

The DHMH encourages residents to report flu cases by clicking here.


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