Although the spread of H1N1 influenza has slowed in Maine and elsewhere, public health officials continue to recommend that people get vaccinated against the virus because of an anticipated resurgence in the spring. H1N1 vaccine is now plentiful in Maine, so obtaining a vaccine is no longer the problem it was a few months ago when people queued for hours outside the Bangor Civic Center and other sites to get vaccinated.
Supplies of the seasonal flu vaccine, however, remain limited.
The H1N1 flu is widely expected to make a comeback in the spring, possibly causing more severe illness than the widespread but relatively mild outbreak that is now winding down.
According to an update from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, five Mainers were hospitalized last week with H1N1, including two children. One of the children was sick enough to be treated in the intensive care unit. A total of 18 deaths related to the virus have been reported in Maine since August 2009; all have occurred in individuals with serious underlying health problems. The most recent death, reported on Thursday, occurred in an individual between 50 and 64 years old from Aroostook County.
Health care providers are urged to “offer H1N1 vaccine to every patient at every visit, every hospitalization, or other health care encounter,” according to the Maine CDC update issued Thursday. Most people older than 2 and younger than 50 can safely receive the nasal spray form; others should receive a vaccine injection.
The H1N1 vaccine is provided at no cost to health care providers, but some clinics may charge a small administration fee.
As H1N1 subsides, the annual spread of seasonal flu is expected to pick up. Seasonal flu typically shows up in the late fall and early winter, worsens through the midwinter and subsides in March or April. An estimated 35,000 Americans die each year from complications of seasonal flu.
Supplies of seasonal flu vaccine are low in Maine and elsewhere, reflecting both a higher than average demand this fall and winter and a national shortage resulting from manufacturers’ inability to produce the H1N1 and seasonal vaccines simultaneously. The Maine CDC urges those at the highest risk of serious complications — people 65 and older, pregnant women, children younger than 2 years, and anyone with underlying illness — to seek and obtain a seasonal flu vaccine.
Most providers will charge about $25 for a seasonal flu vaccine, but Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance policies will pay for it.
Many local medical offices have supplies of both H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccine, and some retail grocery stores and pharmacies continue to offer public clinics. A list of scheduled vaccine clinics may be obtained by calling 211 or checking the Web site of the Maine CDC.
On the Web: www.maineflu.gov