BELFAST— State health officials are hopeful — if not convinced — that the flu epidemic already has crested in Maine.
“We think we’ve peaked,” Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, said Friday. “Emergency rooms are not seeing only flu now. That’s a good sign. But flu is one of those things where the one predictable thing is that it’s unpredictable.”
She said health officials are seeing fewer prescriptions for Tamiflu, the antiviral drug that treats the flu. The most recent influenza report from the Maine CDC showed 44 new outbreaks in Maine, mostly located in long-term care facilities, schools and day care centers.
The Jan. 22 report noted statistics taken in the third week of January.
Among them, outpatient visits for influenza-like illness dropped to 2 percent, down from a high of 3 percent at the end of 2012, and hospital admissions due to pneumonia and influenza dropped to 7 percent from a high of 10 percent, also noted at the end of the year.
According to a map created by the federal CDC, there is “widespread” flu activity in Maine. Only the Pacific island of Guam is reporting no flu activity.
Nationally, 29 children have died from the flu since the season began in October. An unvaccinated, otherwise-healthy child from central Maine died from the flu in mid-December.
“Our hearts go out to the family,” Pinette said. “It’s a very difficult thing.”
The CDC doesn’t track adult flu deaths, but Maine health officials have received anecdotal reports that the illness has claimed some lives, as it typically does every season. So far, there have been 135 outbreaks reported in long-term care facilities.
Pinette said health officials are continuing to encourage what she called “community containment.”
“Making sure people wash their hands and staying home if they’re sick,” she said.
Also, it’s not too late to seek out the flu vaccine.
“We’re encouraging people to get it because the flu is still circulating,” Pinette said.
The CDC encourages everyone over 6 months of age to be vaccinated against the flu, including those who were immunized last year.
There are three strains of the flu that are making their way around Maine, which have wreaked some havoc in schools including Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, where more than 40 percent of students were absent from classes earlier in January.
But on Friday, Susan Pratt, the superintendent of Regional School Unit 40, said current attendance at the high school is “about normal.”
“It appears we are over the biggest hurdle with the flu,” she wrote in an email to the Bangor Daily News. “We are not seeing reportable numbers in any of our schools as of today.”
North along the coast, Camden Hills Regional High School has been monitoring daily attendance and has had vaccination clinics for students and members of the faculty.
“Knock on wood, we’re in good shape,” said Principal Nick Ithomitis. “When people are sick, they stay home.”