AUGUSTA, Maine — Anticipating a marked increase in the spread of the H1N1 swine flu virus this fall and winter, state officials are “hoping for the best but preparing for the worst,” Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday.
That preparation includes a daylong H1N1 summit in Augusta on Aug. 20 aimed at coordinating efforts among schools, colleges, county-level emergency management agencies, municipalities, social service agencies and other groups.
It also includes plans to vaccinate as many Mainers as possible — especially schoolchildren and young adults — against the regular seasonal flu, and an additional campaign to administer the new H1N1 vaccine to high-risk groups as soon as it becomes available, Mills said, speaking at a State House press conference. Both vaccines will be offered at no charge.
Mills said summer camps in Maine have dealt effectively with H1N1, working closely with public health groups to establish early detection strategies, isolation areas and medical treatment. About 36 camps have been affected as youngsters from areas of the country where flu cases are widespread swap germs in sleeping cabins, dining halls and other confined spaces.
Few children have had to leave camp, Mills said, and no Maine camps have closed because of H1N1. Nationwide, about 80 camps have shut down because of the virus, she said.
“These summer camp outbreaks serve as a barometer of what we can expect when schools open in the fall,” Mills said.
About half of school-age children in Maine will be able to receive a seasonal flu vaccine at school this year, according to Susan Gendron, commissioner of the state Department of Education. That’s because some Maine schools, but not all, have agreed to partner with the Maine CDC in setting up on-site flu vaccine clinics shortly after school starts. Protecting children against seasonal flu will decrease the likelihood that they will become seriously ill if they contract H1N1 before a vaccine for that virus is available.
“Schools will be sending home permission slips for their children to participate,” Gendron said Friday. The department will post a list of participating schools on its Web site, she said.
Mills said the state also has been working with private boarding schools, colleges and universities to help them prepare.
Those most at risk of contracting H1N1 and developing serious illness or complications include pregnant women, children, young adults and health care workers, Mills said. These groups will be first to receive the new vaccine when it becomes available, which could be as early as October, she said.
The number of confirmed cases of H1N1 swine flu in Maine is now 302, a “gross underestimate” of the actual number of people stricken with the virus, according to Mills.
“The U.S. CDC and the World Health Organization are no longer providing case numbers because actual cases are much higher,” Mills said.
On the Web: www.mainepublichealth.gov