BALTIMORE (WJZ) — This year, the flu season is striking early and with a vengeance. In Maryland and across the country, hospitals are overloaded.

Monique Griego has more on the outbreak.

Things are so bad, hospitals had to turn people away in some states.

Flu season is striking early and hitting hard.

“Stomach pains, back pains, head pains, throwing up, diarrhea,” said flu patient Mark Johnson.

Matt Johnson is on the uptick, but only after spending two days at Sinai Hospital.

Doctors say flu season normally peaks in mid to late February, but across the country, emergency rooms are already being overrun by very sick people.

“When I was in the emergency room, it was packed,” Johnson said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 41 states are reporting widespread cases of the flu. At least 18 children have died from the virus.

Because not everyone who’s sick is tested for the virus, it can be hard to track the exact number of flu cases. Here in Maryland, state health leaders say the flu is at its highest intensity level and it’s described as widespread.

“The volume is just incredibly increased,” said Dr. Dov Frankel, Sinai Hospital.

Frankel also believes the intensity of the symptoms is much worse. Patients seem to agree.

“From one to 10, it’s definitely a 10,” Johnson said.

Some doctors also say vaccines aren’t preventing one strain spreading this year.

“At the moment we have, you might call it a rogue virus out there causing about 10 percent of the cases,” said Dr. William Shaffner, Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Johnson’s flu combined with underlying asthma problems are why he ended up in the hospital. If you’re not part of a high-risk group, Frankel says it’s best to just stay home and rest.

“Elderly, very young, pregnant, immuno-compromised. Those people, there’s something we can do. But for the average person, there’s not much we can do,” Frankel said.

According to the CDC, this year’s vaccine still covers 91 percent of flu strains so doctors say you should still get your flu shot.

In addition to the vaccine, doctors say people should always wash their hands and stay home if they are sick.


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