H1N1 flu sickens 9 staffers at 4 camps

Posted June 23, 2009, at 8:24 p.m.

Staff at four summer “sleep-over” camps in Maine have been sickened recently with the H1N1 swine flu virus, but the state’s top public health official said Tuesday that it’s safe to pack youngsters off to camp anyway.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said all summer camps in Maine have been working closely with public health inspectors to develop appropriate ways to identify kids who may develop flu symptoms and isolate them from other campers to help prevent spread of the illness.

Whether sick youngsters — or counseling staff — should stay at camp or return to their homes will be decided on an individual basis, she said, based on the age of the affected individuals, where they come from and whether a parent or other caregiver is available.

Mills would not identify the four camps where a total of nine counselors have become ill, but said they were located in Cumberland, York, Oxford and Lincoln counties. Campers had not yet arrived at any of the facilities when the staff members got sick, she said.

Mills said H1N1 continues to spread across Maine, with a total of 72 laboratory-confirmed cases including 16 nonresidents diagnosed while visiting. The total number of cases is no doubt much higher, she said.

“Anybody with a fever of over 100 degrees and respiratory symptoms such as a cough or sore throat — you have to assume it’s H1N1,” she said. “You should go home and stay home for a week.”

Five Mainers have been hospitalized with H1N1, Mills said, and all but one have been discharged.

Homeless shelters, jails, day care centers, cruise boats and other places where people congregate in close quarters should take special precautions this summer, Mills said.

“Having enough soap and water, hand sanitizer, tissues and display posters to serve as reminders is key to containing the spread of this virus,” she said.

Looking forward to the fall, Mills said, the state is working with public schools to offer flu vaccine clinics for the seasonal influenza. A seasonal flu shot will not ward off the H1N1 virus, but will help individuals maintain overall good health so they will be less susceptible to H1N1.

The Maine CDC also is preparing to organize large-scale H1N1 clinics if a vaccine becomes available later in the year.

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