AUGUSTA – The first case this season of the influenza A virus in Maine, commonly known as the flu, has been confirmed by officials from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine CDC, said Monday that the state health laboratory confirmed the first influenza case late last week.
She identified the patient as an elderly individual who resides in a Kennebec County community.
Pinette said the person had not been vaccinated, had not been traveling, and is currently recovering at home. The person was being treated for multiple underlying health conditions.
Though it might seem early, Pinette said it is not unusual for people to contract the flu in October.
She said incidences of the flu are expected to peak in December, January and February.
The state sent out a health alert, “influenza arrives in Maine,” on Monday afternoon warning that flu season has begun.
“We thought this was a good time to get the message out,” Pinette said.
Pinette said it is too early to know whether vaccination supplies are adequate to meet demand but noted that “vaccination is the cornerstone of prevention.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website reports that manufacturers have estimated that they will produce between 135 million and 139 million doses of influenza vaccine.
Traditional vaccines will protect a person against three different strains of flu virus. But this year, a flu vaccine known as a quadrivalent is available. It will protect a person against four flu viruses.
Federal officials say it is hard to predict how effective a vaccine will be because there are several strains of influenza circulating. Moreover, the federal CDC says flu viruses are constantly changing from one season to the next or even within the course of a season – a cycle health experts call “drift.”
In addition to getting vaccinated, people who feel ill and are coughing or sneezing should do so into their shoulder when they are walking or standing in a public place, Pinette said.
She said the flu vaccine has proven to be effective. Nationally, 62 percent of those who get vaccinated do not have to be treated for the flu in the season they received a shot.
The federal CDC recommends that people over the age of 6 months receive a flu vaccination, even those who were vaccinated for influenza last year.
Anyone with high-risk conditions should be vaccinated as soon as possible. Older people, young children, people with chronic lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, or neurologic conditions, and pregnant women are considered to be at a higher risk.
In a memo sent to state health officials, the federal CDC said that the 2012-2013 influenza season “was a reminder of how unpredictable and severe influenza can be. Influenza activity began early in the U.S. and was high for 15 weeks. The season was also more severe than recent seasons.”
Last year, hospitalization rates, especially in older adults, and deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza were the highest recorded in nearly a decade, according to the federal CDC.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: