Flu’s here

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AUGUSTA – Flu season has arrived in Maine.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control, said Tuesday that a handful of influenza cases have been confirmed in three counties: Franklin, Piscataquis and Penobscot.

One case in Piscataquis County involved a death right before Christmas. A young adult who had influenza B died, Mills said. The cause of death hasn’t been determined, Mills said. It is believed that the flu was “not the full cause of death,” but was a factor, she said.

That unnamed person was visiting Maine for Christmas from a southeastern state. That part of the country is experiencing serious illnesses from influenza B, Mills said.

Influenza A and influenza B are similar strains, but influenza B is usually less serious, Mills said.

Dr. Douglas Smith, the school physician for Lewiston and Auburn schools and a St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center family doctor, said so far he’s not seen any “true influenza” in his patients.

The word “flu” is an overused term to often describe illnesses similar to the influenza but are not the real thing, Smith said.

Anyone walking around who says they have the flu probably does not, Mills said. Someone with a true case would not be at the supermarket, they’d be too weak. But someone lying on the coach groaning may have the real thing, Mills said.

True influenza involved symptoms similar to a cold: running noses, sore throat, cough and congestion, but also fever, fatigue and body aches where people “feel like their bones are going to burst,” Smith said. “They’re generally much more tired and run down.”

The real flu “isn’t super common,” and deaths are less common, Smith said. Typically the average healthy adult will come through the flu fine, but the young and old are more at risk.

With schools re-opening and many returning to work from a Christmas vacation, it’s important that Mainers follow three basic guidelines to avoid spreading or getting the flu:

• Washing hands frequently.

• Staying home if ill, especially if that sickness involves a fever.

• Covering coughs and sneezes.

As the doctor who advises Lewiston and Auburn schools, Smith said getting young children to practice proper hygiene can be tough. Young children who are sick should not be sent to school. “They’re not going to keep their hands to themselves,” Smith said.

Students should be encouraged proper hygiene, like covering their coughs or sneezes.

Phrases like “Do it in your sleeve” seem to be sticking with students, Smith said. The CDC has a national campaign pointing out that healthy habits keep germs from spreading and keep people well. When coughing or sneezing, mouths and noses should be covered with a tissue. If no tissue is available, cover with hands as long as hands are washed immediately, or cover with your sleeves.

According to the CDC, elementary school students who cover their sneezes and coughs and follow other proper hand hygiene get less sick and miss 2.42 days of school a year. Elementary students who don’t cover and follow proper hand hygiene get more sick and miss more school: 3.02 days a year.

It’s not too late to get a flu shot, Mills said, adding that the vaccine is available throughout most of Maine. Those who should get a flu shot are people 50 or older, under 6 years old, or anyone with a chronic disease or who is pregnant.

Maine’s CDC recommends people call local health care providers, hospitals or visiting nurses’ associations to find out where flu shots are available.

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