As the flu season winds down, it appears that Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont fared better than in some past seasons. Each state ended up with enough flu shots for those at greatest risk despite early-season shortages.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says influenza peaked last month and has been declining in most parts of the country since then.

Epidemiologists in New Hampshire and Vermont described the flu season as mild, while Maine’s epidemiologist described it as moderate. But they cautioned that flu season could last another few weeks in the region.

“We don’t declare the end until it’s over. Influenza can certainly last into late March and early April,” said Dr. Kathleen Gensheimer, Maine’s epidemiologist.

Overall, though, health officials seemed to be satisfied, especially given the near-panic last fall when there was a nationwide shortage of vaccine.

Health officials learned early last October that British regulators had banned Chiron Corp. from shipping some 48 million doses of vaccine to the United States. The shortage meant that healthy people had to forgo vaccinations, and many in high-risk groups had to wait in long lines at public clinics to get shots.

Fortunately, the season started slowly and did not peak until February, according to the CDC. As the season unfolded, officials in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont found that they had vaccine left over.

Vermont eased restrictions on vaccinations, and Maine and New Hampshire lifted their restrictions altogether. New Hampshire used about 98 percent of its vaccine supply, ending with a surplus of fewer than 2,000 doses.

In Vermont, people at the highest risk appeared to have heeded the call to get shots, said Dr. Cort Lohff, epidemiologist with the Vermont Department of Health.

“I think all indications are that people did listen to the recommendations that both the CDC and our health department put out,” Lohf said.

Maine’s season ended up being more severe than last season with more than 30 influenza outbreaks in nursing homes and the deaths of two children, a toddler in Washington County and a teenager in Sagadahoc County, Gensheimer said.

“To have two otherwise healthy kids die in Maine is a pretty tragic event. And then of course we compound that with a number of adults who die from it and were hospitalized,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Bureau of Health.

Each year, about 200,000 Americans land in hospitals because of the flu and an average of 36,000 die, according to the CDC.

AP-ES-03-25-05 1352EST


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