Baltimore, MD – The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) today released a new flu surveillance data dashboard, updating its standard weekly flu surveillance reporting with more detail, including enhanced data visuals, year-over-year comparisons for surveillance factors and new insight into flu vaccination rates by jurisdiction.
The release comes amid concern about the potential for the state’s health care system to become overwhelmed as the flu season progresses and Maryland simultaneously combats its second resurgence of widespread COVID-19 infections.
“The new dashboard offers more dynamic information about the statistics we monitor every flu season. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the goal is to provide as much data as possible,” said MDH Secretary Robert R. Neall. “We want the public to have the information they need and the incentive to take appropriate action—get a flu shot, wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance.”
MDH’s flu dashboard captures a weekly snapshot of flu-like illness using several different systems and methods to report. Data are sourced from emergency departments and urgent care providers; community-based providers and individuals; clinical labs and the MDH Public Health Laboratory; and inpatient hospital stays. The dashboard also includes flu vaccination data by county, gender, race, ethnicity and age group.
To conduct illness surveillance, Maryland participates in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s U.S. Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network and the Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics to monitor flu-related visits to health care providers. Maryland also uses the Maryland Resident Influenza Tracking Survey, which enables individuals who are experiencing flu symptoms to volunteer to report via email.
Laboratory surveillance is conducted through the MDH Public Health Laboratory and 50 clinical laboratories throughout the state that each week report both the total number of flu tests performed and test results. The Emerging Infections Program at MDH also conducts weekly surveillance for laboratory-confirmed flu-associated hospitalizations among all of Maryland’s 49 acute care hospitals.
“We use a surveillance system to monitor flu activity in Maryland because it’s a faster, more efficient way to identify trends in community transmission and to keep tabs on the burden the flu may cause on our healthcare system,” said MDH Acting Deputy Secretary for Public Health Dr. Jinlene Chan. “Whereas COVID-19 is an emerging infection, flu is widespread seasonally; therefore, we use established surveillance methods to inform our flu mitigation strategies year after year.”
Flu surveillance data is reported weekly throughout the annual flu season, from the first week in October through the second week in May. To date, the 2020-2021 flu season has shown minimal flu activity, with nine reported influenza-associated hospitalizations; two reported flu-related deaths; no reported outbreaks; and no specimens tested by PCR at the MDH Public Health Laboratory confirmed to be influenza.
The flu vaccine is the single most effective way to protect against getting the flu and it can be given at any time during the flu season. Marylanders are encouraged to talk to their health care provider about which flu shot is right for them and their family members. Marylanders can also visit marylandvax.org to schedule an appointment with their local health department’s flu vaccination clinic.
To view the flu surveillance data dashboard, visit health.maryland.gov/flu-dashboard. The dashboard is updated weekly on Fridays during the 4 p.m. hour.
For more information about MDH’s flu surveillance activity, including seasonal flu summaries from 2011-2019, visit: https://phpa.health.maryland.gov/influenza/fluwatch/Pages/Index.aspx
For more information about the flu, visit health.maryland.gov/flu.