About 100 students at Bowdoin College are thought to have been sickened by the H1N1 flu virus since arriving on campus this month, but Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a press conference Wednesday that no new outbreaks have been identified.
A total of 381 cases of H1N1 have been confirmed in Maine since the virus emerged here in April. Of those individuals, 19 have been hospitalized and one has died. People under the age of 25 account for 63 percent of cases in Maine, consistent with national data and underscoring concerns that the new flu virus targets children, young adults and pregnant women — unlike the seasonal flu, which typically causes more severe symptoms in the elderly.
Public health officials use the presence of confirmed cases in a community only as a marker of viral transmission, acknowledging that many more people likely have been stricken but not tested. Anyone with flu symptoms — fever, cough or sore throat, and aches and pains — is assumed to have contracted the H1N1 virus. Symptoms in this country have been generally mild, but health experts fear the virus may increase in severity as cold weather approaches.
The H1N1 virus spreads easily through respiratory droplets and is especially transmissible in crowded areas such as schools and summer camps.
Mills said Bowdoin College has done an exceptional job of detecting H1N1 early and isolating affected students on the campus as the outbreak there has unfolded.
As she has in the past, Mills stressed the importance of Maine schoolchildren receiving the seasonal flu vaccine this year. While the season vaccine confers no specific protection against H1N1, children who are not sick with seasonal flu probably will be less susceptible to H1N1 and suffer milder symptoms if they do contract it.
The state has ordered approximately 275,000 doses of seasonal flu vaccine, and many public and private schools for the first time will offer free vaccine clinics to their students and other children in the communities they serve. The clinics are a collaborative project of the Maine CDC, the state Department of Education and local health agencies, with funding from federal stimulus grants and other sources.
Participating schools include those in Bangor, Calais, Madawaska, Robbinston, North Haven and Milo. A number of private academies also will participate, as well as the Opportunity Training Center in Presque Isle and the Penobscot Job Corps Academy in Bangor. An updated list of schools is available on the Web site of the Maine CDC.
Shipments of seasonal vaccine already have begun arriving in Maine and will continue into November.
A separate vaccine for the new H1N1 flu virus is expected to be available in limited amounts beginning in the middle of October, Mills said. Many schools will hold H1N1 clinics, but early shipments of the vaccine also will be sent to hospitals for health care workers and to clinicians who treat pregnant women.
By the end of November, Mills said, there should be enough doses of the H1N1 vaccine in Maine for everyone who wants it.
Vaccinations for both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu are voluntary.
On the Web: www.maineflu.gov.