After taking time off last year, the flu is back in Maine, but the start is slow


After taking a hiatus last season, the flu virus is back in Maine, although it started off slow, reflecting a national trend.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention released its weekly influenza surveillance report on Tuesday, which says 13 people have been hospitalized with the flu since the season began in late September.

There have been no confirmed deaths from influenza so far this year, although there is often a lag in reporting as deaths must be confirmed through review of the death certificate. According to the Maine CDC, 505 positive influenza cases have been reported this season from Maine-based labs.

But although the flu season has started slowly, it’s unclear what will happen in the weeks ahead as more people congregate indoors where transmission is most likely to occur, said Dr Dora Anne Mills, MaineHealth Health Improvement Manager. Tuesday.

The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which monitors transmission of influenza nationwide, report that activity is still low, but a steadily increasing trend is emerging.

In Maine, almost all of the positive tests were for H3N2 from influenza A, a very virulent strain, and that reflects national data, according to the federal CDC. Most infections have occurred in people aged 5 to 24, but the rate in adults 25 and older has increased, the CDC said.

“We are seeing a more virulent strain of flu circulating here in Maine and the United States, which typically causes more hospitalizations,” Mills said. “The good news is that the flu vaccine is readily available and it appears to be a pretty good match for the flu virus.”

A flu case map released this week by the federal CDC shows transmission is high in New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Indiana, Kansas, North Dakota and New Mexico.

Although the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu tend to be similar, Mills said, the most prominent symptom of the flu is severe body aches, while the hallmark symptom of COVID is loss of taste and feeling. ‘smell.

“When you get the flu, it feels like you’ve been hit by a truck,” Mills said.

People who test negative for COVID should ask their health care providers to test them for the flu, Mills said. The flu test is already available, usually involves a nasal swab, and there are remedies available to reduce flu symptoms, such as the prescription drug Tamiflu.

The flu took a hiatus last year, Mills said. By the end of March, nearly three-quarters of the 2020-21 influenza season, there had been only 136 total cases reported and only three hospitalizations, according to the Maine CDC. There were no epidemics or deaths.

By March 2020 – just as the pandemic was starting to take hold – there had already been 36 flu deaths, 81 epidemics, 494 hospitalizations and 10,000 cases. As of mid-March 2018, during Maine’s worst flu season in recent memory, there had been 6,973 cases of seasonal flu, 1,326 hospitalizations, 122 outbreaks and 71 deaths.

Health experts say the precautions people took against COVID-19 a year ago, including social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands, have likely caused the flu cases to drop dramatically. In addition, more residents were vaccinated against influenza in 2020.

Health officials are unsure of what to expect in the coming weeks as Maine and the country head into a season where the flu and COVID will circulate simultaneously.

“Anyone can guess what’s going to happen with the flu season this year,” Mill said. “We didn’t have a flu season last year and we don’t know why. We may not know for a while.

In Mills’ opinion, there is only one reliable way to protect yourself from the flu and COVID.

“Getting the flu and COVID vaccine is the best course of action,” Mills said.

The flu season usually begins in late September and early October and can end in May. Flu cases typically peak between December and February, according to the federal CDC.

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