Swine flu hits three in Maine

Posted April 29, 2009, at 10:01 a.m.

Three adults in Maine have tested positive for swine flu, state officials confirmed on Wednesday. Two of the victims live in Kennebec County, and the third lives in York County.

In addition, state officials announced Wednesday night the closure of Kennebunk Elementary School and the Crayon Academy day care center in Arundel because two children have exhibited symptoms of the swine flu. Both facilities are in York County.

“This is a serious situation,” said Gov. John Baldacci in declaring a civil emergency late Wednesday. “We are taking these precautions to slow the spread of the flu and to make sure Maine can respond quickly and efficiently.”

In a press release issued just before 8 p.m. Wednesday, the governor’s office indicated the declaration of a civil emergency would “allow the state to better respond to the emerging threat posed by H1N1 flu.”

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During an earlier State House news conference, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said none of the three adults with the flu had been hospitalized. All remain isolated in their homes and are expected to recover, she said.

Additional information about the three adult victims was not immediately available Wednesday other than they are not elderly and one has a recent “travel history” to an area where swine flu cases are numerous, according to Mills.

No additional cases had been confirmed by the end of the day, but results of dozens of other tests are pending.

The two children who have developed symptoms have been in contact with an adult identified with the infection, the governor’s office reported late Wednesday.

The York County school and day care will be closed for seven calendar days, officials said, and parents were advised to keep their children home. The parents were advised to monitor for symptoms of the flu and to take their children to a medical professional if any signs are exhibited. Otherwise parents do not need to take ac-tion, according to the Maine CDC.

Speaking at the news conference Wednesday morning, the governor said Mainers should not panic.

“I know people are worried and concerned about their families, kids and neighbors,” Baldacci said. He stressed that most cases in the United States have been relatively mild and said Maine is well prepared to cope with the expanding international epidemic.

Wednesday afternoon, after meeting with his Cabinet and the Maine Emergency Management Agency, Baldacci said every state department from Agriculture to Transportation has activated its own emergency plan and is prepared to continue operations in the event the epidemic worsens.

Baldacci said the state will spend $2.175 million in federal stimulus money to buy enough antiviral medicine to treat about 500,000 individuals. The medicine should be in Maine within one week, he said. An additional 30,000 to 40,000 courses of antivirals are expected to arrive by Sunday in Maine from a federal stockpile and will be distributed to community hospitals.

The antiviral medication, available only by prescription, does not “cure” influenza but can lessen the severity and duration of the illness. It will be used to treat Mainers who become severely ill and may be given preventively to family members and others who come in close contact with victims, Mills said. She added that medication protocols and recommendations are changing rapidly as the epidemic progresses.

School superintendents have been alerted to the outbreak, Baldacci said, and will be communicating closely with staff, students and families. In accordance with federal recommendations, plans in Maine call for the temporary closure of any school where a student or staff member is diagnosed with swine flu. Other schools served by the same school bus ridden by an ill student also may be closed, Baldacci said.

Day care programs, nursing homes and other state-licensed facilities also have been notified and will enact emergency measures in response to the outbreak, Mills said.

Both Mills and Baldacci stressed that information about the epidemic is evolving rapidly and said Mainers should take steps to stay informed.

Since 2001, state and federal agencies have been developing coordinated plans to respond to a range of national security threats, including a global epidemic of virulent influenza. Public health officials say such a pandemic is overdue.

They point to the Spanish flu of 1918 as evidence of the possible devastation that could result.

The 1918 pandemic sickened at least 47,000 Mainers and killed 5,000. In the United States, the Spanish flu caused some 675,000 deaths and crippled businesses, governments and social services. Worldwide, it is estimated to have killed between 50 million and 100 million people, almost half of them between the ages of 20 and 40.

The 1918 Spanish influenza was a type A, subtype H1N1 virus, the same variant as the one that as of Wednesday had sickened close to 100 Americans in at least 11 states, including the three in Maine.

Globally, the current virus is linked to the deaths of about 160 Mexicans, and cases have been confirmed in a half-dozen European countries.

On Wednesday afternoon, the World Health Organization raised its alert status to Phase 5, signaling “widespread human infection” and the imminent risk of a pandemic.

Earlier Wednesday, Mills said the number of swine flu cases in Maine is expected to rise in coming days. She emphasized the need for common-sense measures.

She said all Mainers should take these precautions:

• Practice “excellent respiratory hygiene,” including washing their hands, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home and away from other people if they are ill with flu symptoms such as fever and congestion.

• Stay informed about the progress of the epidemic in Maine and elsewhere.

• Develop an influenza plan for their homes and businesses, including stockpiling a few days’ worth of food, medicine and other necessities.

“There is no reason to panic,” Mills said. “The strategies are known and they work. They are the same strategies our mothers taught us when we were 5 years old.”

People who develop flu symptoms — including fever, respiratory congestion and sore throat — and who also have returned within the past seven days from Mexico or other areas where the epidemic is active should call a health care provider, Mills said.

The swine flu is a respiratory virus spread by droplets released when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. It is not food-borne and is unrelated to eating pork, ham, bacon or other pork products.

The Maine CDC has established a toll-free public information hot line for people with questions or concerns about the outbreak. The number is 888-257-1118.

Additional information is available on the Internet, including preparedness checklists for households and businesses.

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