People enter a crowded entrance to St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center’s emergency department Dec. 10, 2021, in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file photo

Influenza cases and hospitalizations may be on the decline statewide, but the latest data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the virus’s spread and severity remains high in the Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.

According to Wednesday’s weekly flu surveillance report, Androscoggin and Oxford counties were experiencing a “sustained increase” in flu activity for the week ending Dec. 24. And although there was a decrease in flu activity for Franklin County, its severity was listed as “very high.”

Androscoggin and Oxford counties’ severity was estimated to be high and low, respectively.

The federal CDC determines activity trends based on the percentage of county-level emergency department visits for respiratory illnesses where a patient has a fever and a cough or sore throat out of all emergency department visits. That percentage is compared against a baseline percentage based on emergency department visits for respiratory illnesses during non-flu weeks and other factors.

Activity trends are characterized as a sustained increase, increase, plateau, decrease or sustained decrease.

Severity thresholds are determined by taking the percentage of outpatient visits for respiratory illnesses with fever and a cough or sore throat, the rate of influenza-associated hospitalizations and the percentage of pneumonia or influenza-related deaths and applying a methodology called the Moving Epidemic Method.


Severity is classified as low, moderate, high or very high.

During the week ending Friday, Maine reported 2,881 new flu cases statewide and 87 new flu-related hospitalizations. There were four influenza-associated deaths, including the death of a child under the age of 18.

Statewide, the Maine CDC opened outbreak investigations at 43 schools, including eight in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties. There was a total of 54 new outbreak investigations opened last week, bringing the total number of outbreaks so far this season to 206.

Flu-associated hospitalizations in Androscoggin and Franklin counties each tripled last week compared to the week prior, with 15 patients and six patients admitted to hospitals, respectively.

Oxford was the only county in the tri-county region to see a decrease in hospitalizations.

The situation at local hospitals remains much the same as earlier this month, St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center spokesperson Steve Costello said in an email. But with families and friends gathering for the holidays recently, providers are expecting a post-Christmas uptick in cases.


Plus, flu season is occurring against the backdrop of the still-present COVID-19 pandemic.

Heather Nadeau, the emergency department nursing director at St. Mary’s in Lewiston said earlier this month that prevention measures have been successful in controlling COVID. However, it is inevitable that some people will still get really sick with COVID, flu or any other illness, just as there will always be people who get really sick, she said.

As of Wednesday, COVID-related hospitalizations statewide were trending down compared to two weeks ago, according to state data, but the 14-day average of patients requiring critical care or a ventilator were up compared to earlier this month.

“But our patients that are coming in with COVID have a lot less severe symptoms than our patients coming in with influenza right now,” Nadeau said.

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