AUGUSTA, Maine — Two more deaths linked to H1N1 influenza in Maine were reported by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention over the weekend, bringing the overall total to five since August.
A Hancock County resident between 25 and 50 years old and a Kennebec County resident older than 65 died in the past two weeks. Both had H1N1 and both had underlying conditions, according to Maine CDC.
“We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the deceased,” Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine CDC, said in a statement released Saturday. “While most people with H1N1 in Maine and the nation have had relatively mild infections, this news demonstrates how severe influenza can be, especially in those with underlying conditions, pregnant women and children.”
At the same time news about the two new H1N1-related deaths was released Saturday, the CDC also reported that a Kennebec County long-term care facility, the first in the state, is experiencing an outbreak of H1N1.
The facility has been closed to visitors, and all staff and residents are being placed on anti-viral medicines such as Tamiflu from the state’s stockpile.
“While seasonal flu commonly causes outbreaks in long-term care facilities, H1N1 has not, and this is felt to be in part because infection with H1N1 is relatively uncommon in people older than 64 years,” Mills said. “We are working with this facility to implement the same measures as we would with a seasonal flu outbreak, with the addition of anti-viral medicines for all staff as well as residents.”
Nationally, swine flu has sickened about 22 million Americans since April and killed nearly 4,000, including 540 children, according to startling federal estimates released last week.
The first Maine person to die of swine flu was a York County man in his 50s in August. Then in early November, state officials reported the death of a young Penobscot County man, said to be between 18 and 25, and last week it was learned a middle-age adult from Penobscot County also died of H1N1.
All five people who have died so far in Maine have had underlying conditions, some very serious ones, according to the CDC statement. More than 100 schools have experienced outbreaks and several dozen people have been hospitalized.
Since first being recognized in April 2009, novel influenza A, H1N1, has spread across the globe. In June, a pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization. Children and young adults are disproportionately affected by H1N1, accounting for the majority of confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
In a normal flu season in Maine, an estimated 150 people die, about a dozen outbreaks occur in long-term care facilities, and usually fewer than a half-dozen schools report high absentee rates.
“People should assume they will be exposed to the H1N1 influenza at some point, and with very limited vaccine supplies in Maine right now, we should all take precautions to prevent serious illness,” Mills said.
These precautions include:
· When vaccine is available, consider getting H1N1 flu vaccine if you are in a high priority group. Those in these groups include: pregnant women, anyone 6 months to 25 years of age, caregivers and household contacts of young infants younger than 6 months old, anyone 25-65 with underlying medical conditions, and health care workers. Eventually there should be sufficient vaccine for anyone who desires it.
· Contact your health care provider if there are flulike symptoms in a household in which anyone is younger than 2 years old, 65 years or older, pregnant, and-or has an underlying medical condition. There are prescription medicines (anti-virals such as Tamiflu) that may help reduce the severity and duration of the illness.
Although most people can stay home without seeing a health care provider, anyone with the flu should seek medical attention for:
· Trouble breathing.
· Getting better, then suddenly getting a lot worse.
· Any major change in one’s condition.
Steps to prevent the spread of the flu include:
· Stay home if you are sick, until you are fever-free for a full 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medicine.
· Cough and sneeze into your elbow or into a tissue. Throw this tissue away.
· Wash hands frequently with soap and water, but especially after coughing and sneezing. Alcohol-based hand gels also can be used.
· Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes. Germs can be spread by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
· Avoid contact with sick people. If you are at very high risk for complication, you may want to avoid large crowds.
“We know that any type of influenza can cause serious illness, so it is important that we all redouble our prevention efforts to limit the spread of this illness and to prepare for continued expansion of H1N1,” Mills said.
For more information go to www.maineflu.gov.