Dec. 9—Maine health officials warned Thursday that Maine is experiencing a sharp increase in seasonal flu cases recently and is on pace to have an active influenza season.
There have already been 3,446 positive tests for flu, 110 hospitalizations, and 31 outbreaks, "suggesting a higher and more rapid increase in flu activity than is typical for this time of the year," the state Dept. of Health and Human Services said in a release. The influenza season typically runs from October through May.
There were 63 influenza-related hospitalizations reported last week in Maine, a 152 percent increase from the previous week, and nearly 50 percent of those hospitalized were 65 or older. All 16 Maine counties are seeing "a sustained increase in flu activity," DHHS said.
Because not everyone who contracts the flu gets tested, the actual number of influenza cases tends to be underreported.
Public health officials are also reminding residents that even though flu season started weeks ago, it is not too late to get a flu shot. Anyone age 6 months or older can be vaccinated.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends anyone 65 and older receive the Fluzone high-dose quadrivalent vaccine, which contains four times the antigen as standard dose flu vaccines. Federal health officials do not recommend the high-dose vaccine for people under 65. The Fluzone vaccine is one of three high-dose influenza vaccines recommended this year for older people.
"Maine's flu season is undeniably here but it's not too late to protect yourself and your loved ones in time for holiday gatherings," Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav D. Shah said in a statement. "This year's flu vaccine is a good match for the strains of the virus circulating in Maine and across the country. Getting your flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the spread of flu, as well as its worse impacts."
People 65 years and older are at increased risk of serious flu complications because human immune systems weaken with age, the U.S. CDC said. This age group accounts for the majority of flu hospitalizations and deaths.
Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches and fatigue. It can cause people to miss time from work or school and in severe cases can lead to hospitalization or death.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have remained relatively steady over the past few weeks and stood at 118 statewide Tuesday. Officials are concerned that at some point this winter, Maine hospitals will be strained with surging numbers of COVID-19, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and influenza cases.
To reduce the spread of influenza, health officials recommend staying home when sick, washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects.