The flu season is gaining momentum in Maine, with outpatient visits and hospitalizations on the rise. Although the numbers are still small, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent weekly report, experts say that Mainers should expect more widespread disease as the season progresses.
"It's still early," said state epidemiologist Siiri Bennett. "In general, we begin to see an increase at this time, and we will gradually see more as time goes by."
"The numbers are minimal at this time, but they are only the tip of the iceberg," said Dr. Dora. Anne Mills, vice president of clinical affairs at the University of New England in Biddeford and former senior public health officer of Maine. "They're just telling you there's an iceberg there."
The weekly influenza surveillance report shows that of all Maine counties, Penobscot County has the highest flu activity, with 60 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases and 24 hospitalizations. The following are, in order, the counties of York, Cumberland and Androscoggin. The highest numbers in Penobscot County likely reflect recent outbreaks in two unidentified long-term care facilities. The only other outbreak in a public school in Somerset County, according to the report.
Other explanations for Penobscot's numbers include the possibility that there really are more cases of flu in the community or that designated health care providers are being especially avid. in reporting their cases. The weekly monitoring reports are "just a snapshot" that, examined over time, reveal seasonal trends.
Experts say there is still a lot of time to benefit from getting the flu shot. , which are widely available in doctors' offices, pharmacies and other places. The flu vaccine changes every year in anticipation of the strains that are likely to predominate next season.
Although the accuracy and effectiveness of each year's vaccine varies, this year it seems aimed at providing good protection against the strains of Influenza A that currently predominate, health officials say. It is a less effective combination for B strains, which so far represent only a small handful of laboratory results reported in Maine.
"This is the time to get the flu shot," Mills said. It may be that the flu season is just beginning in New England, he said, but it is already widespread in other parts of the country, including the southeast region.
"People in those areas are preparing to travel during the winter holidays, and it will bring them the flu," Mills said. "Once it is here, it will spread like a fire."
Since it takes about two weeks to be fully effective, a flu shot will now provide protection against the disease during the holidays and for the rest of the season, usually for March or April.
The flu vaccine is recommended for almost all 6 months of age and older, but pregnant women, the elderly, and people with chronic diseases are especially vulnerable to the disease.
Do not underestimate how sick the flu can make you, Mills warned. A typical case can last about a week; serious complications include dehydration and pneumonia.
"It hits you like a freight train," he said. While some people get the flu even after receiving the flu vaccine, the vaccine often decreases the severity and duration of the illness.
It is impossible to get a case of flu from the vaccine.
Vaccine options this year include the standard formulation that protects against three strains of the virus; a "quadrivalent" version that protects more broadly; and two different high-dose options for adults 65 and older. The nasal spray vaccine that has been available in recent years is no longer considered effective and is not available.
If you have the flu, do not do it to you, Mills said. Stay at home and rest, away from others. Cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing. Wash your hands often and avoid touching surfaces that others touch, such as door knobs and handrails. Drink plenty of fluids
For the elderly or other especially vulnerable people, a doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication to help with the symptoms of the lesson. In some cases, a health care provider will prescribe over the phone and prevent sick people from entering the office with their germs.
"If you are not excited about getting vaccinated yourself, do it for the people you love." Mills said.
To find a vaccine site, visit the "Influenza" page on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
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