Maine records first case of seasonal flu

By Jackie Farwell, BDN Staff
Posted Dec. 28, 2011, at 3:20 p.m.

Public health officials have announced Maine’s first case of seasonal influenza as they continue to monitor an unusual strain associated with pigs that sickened two children in October.

The first confirmed case of the seasonal flu, in an adult from Lincoln County, was reported Dec. 23, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week. Strains of the flu are circulating nationally as part of a cycle that typically lasts six to eight weeks, according to State Epidemiologist Stephen Sears.

“This is a pretty good travel season, and people are going to be going away and contracting it and bringing it back to Maine,” he said.

The combination of returning vacationers and students heading back to school can create an environment ripe for the flu’s hallmark fevers, aches and chills, Sears said.

“It can be a pretty big mixing bowl for viruses,” he said.

The Lincoln County flu patient had not traveled recently and did not require hospitalization.

The Maine CDC recommends again this year that everyone older than 6 months, including those immunized last year, be vaccinated against the flu. Those at high risk should be vaccinated as soon as possible, as full protection can take two weeks to develop. That demographic includes pregnant women, children under 5, adults ages 50 and older, people with chronic medical conditions, residents of long-term care facilities and people who care for those who are at high risk for flu complications, such as health care workers.

Health officials also are keeping an eye on a new strain of flu associated with pigs, which sickened two Cumberland County children in October. Maine is one of five states to report cases of the unusual strain, known as influenza A H3N2, since August, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A total of 12 people, 11 of them children, were affected in Maine, Indiana, Iowa, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Three patients were hospitalized and all have recovered fully.

While half of the patients had no recent exposure to swine, both Maine children had come in contact with the animals, one at an agricultural fair. An investigation failed to pinpoint the source of the virus, however, Sears said.

“We were unable to find any animal with the strain,” he said.

While often referred to as “swine flu,” the new strain is genetically different from the H1N1 strain that sparked global panic and caused the 2009 pandemic, Sears said.

“This is a little more associated with swine,” he said. “The other one was much more of a human disease.”

The recent strain can be spread between humans, but is not highly transmissible like the seasonal flu, Sears said.

“This is something that’s being monitored and it does not appear to have significant potential for spread,” he said.

The run-of-the-mill seasonal flu, which typically sickens from 5 to 20 percent of the population, poses more of a public health risk, Sears said. Influenza is linked to thousands of deaths each year in the United States, primarily among the elderly, infants and those with chronic illnesses.

While the state CDC doesn’t track Maine’s inventory of flu vaccines, which are largely administered through private providers, Sears said the state is well stocked.

“We believe that there’s plenty of vaccines,” he said.

In addition to immunization, people can protect themselves and help limit the spread of influenza by washing their hands often, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home when ill.

To find a vaccine clinic near you, visit www.flu.gov. General information about the seasonal flu is available at www.cdc.gov/flu.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/12/28/health/maine-records-first-case-of-seasonal-flu/ printed on July 31, 2014