January 29, 2013

Flu epidemic has peaked in Maine, say health officials

By Ben McCanna bmccanna@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Influenza is still widespread in Maine, but there are signs that the epidemic is easing, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Pharmacist Stacia Woodcock, a pharmacy manager for Walgreens in New York City, administer a flu vaccine on Jan. 14. Early signs indicate the influenza pandemic in Maine is easing, according to state health officials.

AP file photo

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"We really think we've hit the peak of this flu, and we're beginning to see it slacking off," State Epidemiologist Stephen Sears said Monday. "I think that's good for Maine."

Nonetheless, flu is still a concern for the region, he said.

"An (influenza) outbreak follows a bell-shaped curve. When you've reached the peak and you start to go down the other side, it still means there are a lot of people getting sick," Sears said.

The Maine CDC is asking people to take four precautions against the spread of the virus: Get vaccinated, wash your hands, stay home if you're sick and cover your cough with your sleeve or a tissue.

There are still ample supplies of vaccinations and antiviral medications throughout the state, Sears said. Antiviral medications can be effective in treating the flu if they're taken soon after developing symptoms.

Earlier this month, the state cleared some hurdles for MaineCare recipients to get antiviral medication, when the Department of Health and Human Services suspended its requirement for patients to receive pre-authorization to receive the drug. The state also suspended a requirement for MaineCare patients to test positive for influenza before receiving the drug, because the test can take longer to process than the window for effective treatment, according to Maine CDC.

Maine CDC doesn't track individual flu cases, but it's clear that the virus is widespread in central Maine and throughout the state, Sears said. Data from the center's most recent report will be available later this week, Sears said.

Flu cases began cropping up in mid-December. The average flu epidemic lasts 12 weeks, but it can go longer. All three strains of the flu virus are present, with A/H3 the predominant strain.

Ben McCanna -- 861-9239 or at: bmccanna@centralmaine.com

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