Feds confirm Maine flu case; total remains 7

Posted May 04, 2009, at 7:23 p.m.

The total number of state-identified H1N1 flu cases in Maine remained unchanged at seven cases on Monday. Maine’s top public health officer would not comment on an unofficial report of one additional case in southern Maine.

Just one of the seven recognized cases, an adult in York County, has been confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The other six must be termed “probable” cases until the federal CDC confirms them, she said, a process that can take several days.

Out of almost 900 H1N1 tests conducted at the state public health lab in the past seven days, four individuals in York County, two in Kennebec County and one in Penobscot County have tested positive. Four of the seven individuals had recently traveled out of state, but none to Mexico, Mills said.

In a recent television interview, a Portland physician said a Scarborough woman is the state’s eighth confirmed case of swine flu, but on Monday Mills would not comment on the statement.

Mills reiterated the need for individuals to take common-sense steps to prevent transmission of the virus. Measures such as covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands often and staying home from school or work if flu symptoms develop — including fever and respiratory problems such as sneezing and coughing — will help limit the spread of the disease, she said.

While symptoms of the illness have been mild in most countries, Mills said, the flu epidemic will continue for the indefinite future and could worsen as it circulates, she said.

“This is a very unique virus and it’s spreading very fast,” she said. “We really don’t know its severity.”

The Kennebunk Elementary School and the Crayon Academy day care in Kennebunk were closed last Thursday after reports that one student at each of the two schools was suspected of having contracted H1N1. The elementary school remains closed and could be closed for a total of 14 days, Mills said, depending on the number of suspected cases in the area and other factors. Federal recommendations changed Friday to allow for a longer school closures.

Crayon Academy reopened Monday after it was learned that the sick student’s symptoms were not due to the H1N1 virus.

The state is following public health protocols in reporting only the counties or regions where individual H1N1 cases are located, except where schools or other institutions are affected, Mills said. The policy protects the privacy of affected individuals and also safeguards against complacency, she said.

“Just because someone in Town A has swine flu, doesn’t mean that other towns nearby don’t have the H1N1 virus,” she said. Other than closing schools when a case is detected in a student or staff member, Mills said other community measures may be recommended such as discouraging attendance at sporting events and other social gatherings.

In response to recent reports of the H1N1 virus in pigs at a farm in the Canadian province of Alberta, Mills said Maine agriculture officials are working with livestock raisers to prevent infection among pigs and birds. The virus’s ability to infect pigs, birds and humans is one reason for the high level of concern among public health officials, she said.

Some 550,000 courses of anti-viral medications are being distributed to Maine hospitals. Anti-viral medications do not cure or prevent viral diseases but can help ease symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. The anti-virals — some purchased with federal economic stimulus funds and others provided from a national stockpile — will be reserved for the sickest individuals and those most at risk for developing life-threatening complications such as pneumonia, Mills said.

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