Map of national flu coverage, courtesy of United States Center for Disease Contol.
AUGUSTA – As flu seasons go, experts are saying that this year’s season is severe. News reports across the nation show schools being closed in at least a dozen states due to flu outbreaks hitting hard in some areas. United States Center for Disease Control maps for this season show Maine was one of the last regions in the country to see the flu reach widespread coverage but experts are pointing to the fact that this year the flu seems to be staying at high levels for a longer period of time that usual.
Maine CDC’s report for the week ending January 20, 2018 says preliminary data shows more than 400 people in Maine have been hospitalized for the flu this season and Maine has seen 46 outbreaks in Long Term Care Facilities so far this season. The Long Term Care Facility outbreaks are mostly in the counties of Cumberland, York and Penobscot. At about the same point in the 2016-17 flu season, Maine CDC reported only 18 hospitalizations and just 6 outbreaks in Long Term Care Facilities.
The Maine CDC report also attributes 22 deaths to the flu this season in Maine, with 5 in the week ending January 20, 2018. There have been no “pediatric influenza-associated deaths” in Maine this season according to the report. In contrast, data from Maine CDC through January 28th of the 2016-17 flu season, Maine had seen zero deaths attributed to influenza.
Deaths attributed to influenza each year are largely among populations of elderly individuals and sometimes as a result of complications with other illnesses, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure.
Maine CDC says to protect yourself from the flu, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after coughing and sneezing, and that alcohol based hand gels can also be used. Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes because germs can spread that way, and avoid contact with sick people.
They also recommend the flu vaccine, including talking to your health care provider about pneumococcal vaccine for anyone under the age of 5, over the age of 65, or of any age with high risk conditions.
The Maine CDC says if you have the flu, you should stay at home if you are sick until you are fever free for 24 hours without taking medicine, and make sure to cough and sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, throwing tissues away immediately.
Most people can stay home to recover without seeing a doctor, they say, but anyone with the flu who experiences dehydration, trouble breathing, any major change in condition, or getting better then suddenly getting a lot worse should seek medical attention.