Maine prepared for flu season, state CDC director affirms

Originally published Sept. 21, 2014

Orono, ME — Maine is fully prepared for the upcoming flu season as enhanced vaccination formulations aim to prevent spread of the seasonal virus, according to Dr. Sheila Pinette, Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director.

A new quadrivalent form of flu vaccine will be available this year, intent on preventing additional flu cases and flu-like illnesses. The vaccine will contain four flu viruses as opposed to the traditional trivalent option, which only contains three, according to Pinette.

“Maine has selected the quadrivalent option, which vaccinates against H1N1, H3N2 and two strains of influenza B, which had several mutations in March, April and May,” Pinette said.

According to Pinette, the dominant strain involved with the 2013-2014 flu season was influenza A H1N1 – the so-called “swine flu.” But, Pinette says, the late-season increase in mutations of influenza B viruses, for which last year’s vaccine did not protect against, is what caused many additional cases of flu and flu-like illnesses.

This phenomenon – known as antigenic shift – occurs when viruses change their protein structure to the point where the body is unable to recognize the virus and produce infection-fighting antibodies against it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The proteins on the flu virus change a lot, and our body doesn’t have a lot of defense against it,” said Dr. Nathan Bisson of Eastern Maine Medical Center Walk-In Care.

Bisson recommends everyone become vaccinated as soon as possible.

“The shot is a dead virus that gives your body some of the puzzle pieces of what the virus looks like. But it takes a couple of weeks for your body to do that,” Bisson said. “I encourage people to get it as soon as possible.”

The flu causes fever and chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headaches, muscle or body aches and fatigue. It is spread through coughing, sneezing and coming into contact with the droplets produced by these activities, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends anyone over the age of six months be vaccinated. Vaccinations can be performed at any medical care center, most drug stores and supermarkets. Most insurance companies pay for the cost of vaccination, according to Pinette, and the average cost of injection ranges from 12 to 18 dollars.

But while doctors hope new vaccine formulations will offer increased protection against the flu, the potential severity of this year’s flu season remains a mystery.

“Every year you can’t anticipate it,” Pinette said. “We just have to go forward and be prepared.”

Pinette reassured that Maine has a good network between the CDC, healthcare professionals, hospitals, medical epidemiologists and emergency medical services.

“We’re prepared for it,” she said.

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