Two more people have died this week in Penobscot County due to H1N1 influenza, bringing the total number of H1N1 deaths in the county to five and the number of statewide deaths to 11 since August, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The latest victims were adults between the ages of 50 and 65. All of the Maine deaths so far have occurred in individuals with serious underlying health conditions.
Maine CDC director Dr. Dora Anne Mills said Wednesday evening that the high proportion of deaths in Penobscot County most likely reflects the relatively higher incidence of smoking and chronic disease in the northern part of the state. In Maine and nationwide, she said, H1N1 deaths have most often occurred in people who suffer from lung diseases such as asthma and emphysema and in conjunction with other chronic disorders such as diabetes and heart disease.
Another possibility is that because proportionally more people in southern Maine were sickened by the virus last spring, the surge in more serious cases this fall has struck harder in northern Maine, she said.
“It will be easier to talk about these generalities later,” she said, when more statistical data about the H1N1 pandemic become available. “Influenza epidemics are lived forward and understood backward,” she added.
Mills said the Maine CDC is taking note of the higher incidence in Penobscot County and working with health care providers here to ensure that limited vaccine supplies are being distributed equitably throughout the population and that high-risk individuals who do become ill with flu symptoms are given anti-viral medications such as Tamiflu.
Supplies of H1N1 vaccine remain limited nationwide, but Mills said doses continue to flow into Maine and are being distributed to counties based on their population.
“Because H1N1 is so widespread, it is important for those at high risk for complications to take extra precautions. We advise staying away from large crowds and starting anti-viral medicines at the first sign of illness for those who are at high risk, which include anyone with an underlying medical condition, everyone over 64 years of age, under 2 years of age and pregnant women,” Mills advised. “It is also important that those who are ill not travel.”
Other basic prevention measures include staying home when ill with flu symptoms, washing hands frequently and covering coughs and sneezes.
In August, a York County man in his 50s was the first Maine resident reported to die of the pandemic strain of H1N1. In addition to the two new deaths reported Wednesday, deaths since August have occurred in a young adult from Penobscot County; five adults between the ages of 25 and 65 from Penobscot County, Hancock County, Washington County, Androscoggin County and Franklin County; and two adults older than age 65 from Kennebec County and Penobscot County.
On the Web: www.maineflu.gov