Mainers urged be on alert to avoid flu

Posted Feb. 10, 2009, at 10 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — It’s still not too late to get that flu shot, Dr. Dora Mills of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention told Mainers on Tuesday.

“I suspect that influenza is marching across the state fairly rapidly,” she said in a telephone interview. “In the last couple of weeks, school absentee rates are up, death rates are up … we see this every winter.”

Mills said her office had heard of schools in southern, central and midcoast Maine that have had as many as 33 percent of students absent in the last couple of weeks.

The high numbers of students staying home likely is due to the flu and it’s better that they don’t come to school, she said.

“The children in a community tend to be the transmitters of flu fairly rapidly, and they can get it very severely, too,” Mills said.

She encouraged parents to keep sick children home until they have been without a fever for 24 hours. Everyone should “pay strict attention” to respiratory hygiene, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home when sick, Mills said.

According to the CDC Web site, influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe illness. Every year, an average of 5 to 20 percent of Americans get the flu, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications and about 36,000 people die.

Older people, young children and those with certain health conditions are at high risk for serious flu complications, according to the CDC.

Doctors at Penobscot Bay Medical Center have noticed the surge in new cases, said Chris Burke, the center’s director of marketing and communications.

“Over the last week or so our volume of flu and flulike symptoms has spiked,” Burke said.

Doctors there also report seeing more cases of pneumonia, which can be a complication of influenza, Burke said.

While Rob Beverage, the principal at Georges Valley High School in Thomaston, said they’re not seeing a rise in flu cases, a woman who answered the phone at the SAD 5 office said 112 students at Rockland High School were absent Monday. The school has about 480 students.

“It’s not too late to get a flu shot,” Mills said. “Better late than never. If you haven’t gotten a flu shot, be very careful.”

For information about influenza, visit www.cdc.gov/flu/

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