Flu medication arrives in Maine

Posted May 02, 2009, at 2:29 p.m.

Anti-viral meds arrive in Maine

Canada officials report H1N1 flu in pig herd

BY NOK-NOI RICKER

OF THE NEWS STAFF

BANGOR — Eastern Maine Medical Center received a shipment of anti-viral medication from federal stockpiles on Saturday, the same day Canadian officials announced the identification of the H1N1 virus in a swine herd in Alberta.

As hospitals received medication to fight the illness, news that the seventh case of swine flu in Maine was announced by state officials on Sunday.

“We have another case in York County, an adult,” said David Farmer, spokesman for Gov. John Baldacci.

Six others, including one youth and two other adults in York County, two adults in Kennebec County, and one child in Penobscot County, also are sick, but “nobody is in the hospital” because of the flu and all are recovering, Farmer said.

“The numbers aren’t as important as we move forward,” he said. “We know the flu is here and we know it’s spreading.”

Kennebunk Elementary School, where the York County child is a student, was closed last week and will remain closed for the next week as a precautionary measure.

EMMC received an undisclosed number of anti-viral doses of both Tamiflu and Relenza, Karen Clements, patient care administrator, said Sunday afternoon. No patients have been given the medication, she said.

“This medicine is reserved for very sick patients in the hospital,” Clements said, adding that “very, very few [patients] nationwide have reached that level” where the anti-viral is needed.

Tamiflu and Relenza are anti-virals that “so far seem to work” to slow symptoms of the swine flu, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Sunday.

In addition to EMMC, hospitals in Caribou, Bar Harbor, Calais, Lewiston, Augusta, Farmington, Portland and Biddeford have received anti-viral drug shipments and protective equipment released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Farmer said.

Maine National Guard members distributed the 50,000 drug units statewide on Saturday, along with protective masks, gloves and other medical equipment. The nine hospitals will distribute the drugs to other hospitals as needed, Mills said.

Anti-viral drugs do not create immunity or cure the disease, but do “slow the replication, the reproduction, of viruses” to slow the spread and lessen symptoms, Mills said. “They don’t kill the virus. We don’t have any medications that actually kill viruses.”

The U.S. CDC reports that an H1N1 vaccine now is being produced and may be available this fall.

None of the anti-viral doses that arrived in Maine on Saturday was issued to patients, Farmer said.

“These are only for people who are hospitalized or seriously ill,” he said. “We do not have anyone hospitalized with this viral infection. They’re all being treated at home.”

However, “there are private supplies in the private sector” and “there have been numerous prescriptions of those issued to treat the flu and as a prophylactic,” Farmer said.

The federally stockpiled flu medication is the first round of drugs that will arrive in Maine. A second shipment of anti-virals, ordered by the state, should arrive early this week.

“We ordered $2.1 million worth,” Baldacci said Sunday, which, when combined with the federal stockpile doses already delivered, should be enough “for 25 percent of the population.”

The order, which was called for under the pandemic flu plan put into place a couple of years ago, is a precautionary measure, the governor said.

“The shelf life of these anti-virals is over five years so we’ll be able to use them … in the future” if they go unused, he said. “You just want to err on the side of safety and not be short on any front. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Meanwhile, Canadian officials announced Saturday that pigs on a farm in Alberta in western Canada have tested positive for H1N1, the World Heath Organization reported on its Web site.

“It is highly probable that the pigs were exposed to the virus from a Canadian farmworker recently returned from Mexico,” the Web site says. The worker, who was not identified, “had exhibited flu-like symptoms and had contact with the pigs.”

“There is no indication of virus adaptation through transfer from human to pigs at this time,” the WHO Web site said Sunday afternoon.

Mills said the news that H1N1 was detected in a pig herd in Canada is “not surprising” but demonstrates the virus’s “ability to jump from one species to another.”

“It shows it’s easy for transmissibility,” she said.

H1N1 “has genetic components of swine influenza, human influenza and avian influenza,” Mills said. Health officials know that a multicomponent virus “has the ability to jump [between species]” but “it doesn’t always jump. … This one has. It’s jumped from one species to another.”

However, “just because it has been found in a pig” isn’t a cause for major concern, she said, because “there has been no evidence of major swine outbreaks.”

Pork is still safe to eat, Mills said, and the WHO Web site also says, “There is no risk of infection from this virus from consumption of well-cooked pork and pork products.”

Changing how sick people react to being ill is a key to preventing the spread of the disease, Baldacci said.

“People will work even if they’re sick,” he said. “It’s kind of the pride we have in Maine. They don’t want to admit they’re sick. We appreciate that hard work and production and pride, but at the same time we also recognize that it could be counterproductive.”

The governor urged people to stay home if sick, cover mouths when coughing or sneezing, and wash hands often to help prevent the spread of illness.

“It’s our hope we’ll ride this thing out without any major disruption,” Baldacci said.

The WHO Web site on Sunday evening said that 898 cases of influenza A infection had officially been reported in 18 countries, with 506 cases in Mexico, which has seen 19 deaths.

In the United States, a reported 226 people have been sickened and one baby has died from the disease. Canada has 85 reported cases, but no deaths.

For information about influenza and specifics about the H1N1 flu, visit the Maine CDC at mainepublichealth.gov, maine.gov/dhhs/boh/swine-flu-2009.shtml; the U.S. CDC Web site, cdc.gov/swineflu; or the WHO Web site, www.who.int/en.

nricker@bangordailynews.net

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