More Mainers have suffered from the flu this season than last, but fewer cases have resulted in hospitalization, according to updated state statistics.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday that 8,519 Mainers have tested positive for the flu through March 30 in the 2018-19 flu season and 880 have been hospitalized. For the same period last season, there were 7,632 flu cases and 1,441 hospitalizations.

Flu season runs from October through May, and while the flu can peak at any time, the worst months are often January, February and March.

Last year’s flu season was considered the worst in the last five years in both Maine and across the country for the number of cases and severity of illnesses reported. Maine reported 9,018 cases by season’s end.

Dr. Siiri Bennett, Maine state epidemiologist, said the predominant strain circulating this season, H1N1 influenza A – which accounts for about 70 percent of all cases – is milder than last year’s predominant strain, H3N2 influenza A.

“Every year the viruses change, and different strains act differently,” Bennett said. Another contributing factor could be that more younger people have reported getting the flu this season, and young people are better able to recover from the disease than seniors.

Seventy-eight percent of influenza cases were people age 49 or younger this season, compared to 70 percent in in 2017-18.

The flu has caused 35 deaths so far this season, while 78 had died through the end of March, 2018. The flu caused 82 deaths for the entire 2017-18 season, according to the Maine CDC.

While the flu was winding down by the end of March during last season, there were 691 new cases reported last week.

“Flu started later this year, so I’m not surprised it’s lasting later into the year,” Bennett said. Flu is also notoriously unpredictable, and it’s not unusual for cases to decline and then spike back up a few weeks later.

Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, headaches, fatigue and coughing. Aside from immunization, basic hygiene such as frequently washing hands, getting plenty of rest and staying away from sick people helps prevent spread of the flu. 

The flu vaccine was 47 percent effective at preventing the disease this season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, an improvement on last season’s effectiveness, which was estimated at 36 percent. 

In order to get the flu vaccine to the market in time, scientists must predict what flu strains will be circulating for the upcoming season, and that is why vaccine effectiveness is lower than for childhood immunizations. 

Bennett said the flu vaccine, despite not being perfect, is still the best protection against the flu. Studies have proven that for those who do contract the flu despite being vaccinated, symptoms are milder and recovery faster than for those who do not get immunized.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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Twitter: joelawlorph


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