Flu outbreak in area called 'moderate'

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer

The Washington region is weathering flu season with a shrug and a few sniffles.

Compared with states like New York and Texas, where flu activity has been measured at near epidemic levels, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, said the District and surrounding counties are enduring a moderate outbreak.

Still, there has been a substantial uptick in the number of cases compared with the last two years.

The D.C. Department of Health said hospitals have had 270 cases of influenza since Sept. 30, 2012. Last year's flu season had only 11 reported cases during the same period. The year before that, 62 cases were reported.

The District reported 40 new cases since the beginning of January.

Virginia does not track individual cases of the flu or emergency-room visits, but it has labeled the flu "widespread."

As of Friday, more than 2,300 visitors to Maryland's emergency rooms had influenzalike illnesses.

"We're at least halfway through [flu season] in most places. The hope is that now it's beginning to go on the decline," said Curtis Allen, a spokesman for the CDC. But, he added, "Influenza is totally unpredictable."

Alexandra Stewart, assistant professor of health policy at George Washington University, commended the city for its efforts to combat the flu, explaining that the city implemented a policy that requires health care workers to get flu vaccinations.

"I think they deserve congratulations," she said. "D.C. has always been criticized for pretty much everything they've done, but this is very forward-thinking."

The flu vaccine has about a 60 percent success rate, and this year, the vaccine is working well, she said.

She called the vaccine a "really good match" against a "particularly tough virus."

The Washington area has maintained a good supply of flu vaccine.

"Right now, we haven't had any shortages," said Najma Roberts, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Health.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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