PORTLAND (AP) – Influenza has been cropping up sporadically around the state since late November, but so far Maine has escaped large outbreaks.

State officials know of two flu outbreaks in nursing homes and 14 cases confirmed by lab tests, and there may be other cases.

“It’s here. People are getting the flu. There’s not been a massive impact so far, but that won’t tell us what’s happening a week or so down the line,” said Geoff Beckett, assistant state epidemiologist in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Public health officials say the type of flu seen in Maine and elsewhere around the United States is closely related to the strain used for this season’s vaccine.

That means flu shots this year offer better protection than some in the past, when the strain in circulation wasn’t a close match.

The vaccine may prevent people from catching flu, but the real purpose is to ensure that the most vulnerable don’t get as sick as they might otherwise.

Earlier this month, the state relaxed eligibility standards that were imposed to deal with a vaccine shortage caused by the shutdown of one of the two manufacturers for the U.S. market.

The high-risk category now includes those who are at least 50 years old; pregnant women; those with chronic medical conditions; residents of long-term care facilities; children between the age of 6 months and 23 months; health-care workers who provide direct patient care; and caregivers and household contacts of children who are less than 6 months old.

The shortfall announced in October left the United States without close to half of its expected supply. People scrambled for the vaccine, clinics were canceled and many doctors’ offices were unable to meet demand from patients.

The pressure on the supply eased over time. Earlier this month, federal officials said only about half of those eligible had received the vaccine.

Dr. Lani Graham, acting director of the state Bureau of Health, said that there’s been good demand for a round of state-sponsored clinics this week, and that the vaccine is now available for health-care providers who want it.

But there probably isn’t enough vaccine in the state to offer flu shots to everyone who may want one, she said.

“The good news is, we reached out all over the state. There’s been a great deal of interest,” she said. “There is still time for people in high-risk groups to receive the flu vaccine and they should reach out to their physicians and attempt to be vaccinated.

“A lot of people think when it comes to be December or January it’s too late to get a flu shot, but we’d like to dismiss that notion.”


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