Maine has three times as many confirmed cases of influenza now than it did this time last year, according to new numbers from the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

Doctors say: Wash your hands, cough smart and get the flu shot — even though the strain of flu seen most often here isn’t covered by this year’s vaccine.

“We do have an increasing number (of cases) and it is widespread,” Dr. Sheila Pinette, head of the Maine CDC, said Thursday.

So far this winter, Maine has seen 2,322 cases of the flu. Last Jan. 25, it was 765.

“Last year, the flu was actually covered by the vaccination that we had available to us,” Pinette said.

This year, the strain of flu Maine is seeing most often, known as H3N2, isn’t covered by the vaccine.

What to include in the flu vaccine is forecast by the World Health Organization months in advance and even though this year’s coverage isn’t perfect, Pinette said doctors are still encouraging people who haven’t been vaccinated to get on it.

“It covers three other viruses and we believe there’s cross-protection of the H3N2 type,” she said. “You’ll get 23 percent protection still, according to investigations by the federal CDC.”

Maine hasn’t had any shortage of flu vaccine or the three brands of anti-viral medication that help treat it.

Androscoggin County has so far seen 52 cases of the flu; Franklin County, 134; and Oxford County, 39.

The state also tracks outbreaks, defined as one person in a long-term care facility — because everyone there is assumed to have compromised immune systems, “everybody at the facility is treated with anti-virals,” Pinette said — or 15 percent of a school population.

Androscoggin County has seen seven outbreaks; Franklin, three; and Oxford, six.

Pinette urged people to stay home if they’re sick, to cough into their elbows and sleeves and to clean desks, computers and phones at work where the virus can live and spread.

“People are coming in, you can smell it from a mile away — it’s very much that fever, general malaise, ‘I feel terrible, my body’s achy,'” said Dr. Pete Tilney, acting medical director of the Emergency Department at Central Maine Medical Center.

He worried most about the very young and the very old, people who can least fight off the flu.

“I’ve put people on ventilators for influenza,” Tilney said. “It’s a bad player and people forget that.”

His emergency room has been busy and he’s hearing the same thing across the state.

“We had periods last week where many hospitals were at capacity or above capacity and it’s not just from flu, it’s kind of put over the edge by the flu,” Tilney said.

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Influenza in Maine

Cases by county, as of Jan. 28:

Androscoggin, 52

Aroostook, 136

Cumberland, 348

Franklin, 134

Hancock, 88

Kennebec, 133

Knox, 130

Lincoln, 92

Oxford, 39

Penobscot, 421

Piscataquis, 15

Sagadahoc, 33

Somerset, 109

Waldo, 45

Washington, 24

York, 523

Total, 2,322

Source: Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention


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