Flu in Maine on the Rise; Still Time to Protect Yourself

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - The flu is more prevalent than ever this year - in Maine and across the country.

The Maine CDC says at least 28 people in our state have died from complications from the flu.

It's not too late to protect yourself.

Dr. Jonnathan Busko is the Emergency Department Director at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor and talked with TV5 about the flu this season:

At St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, we're seeing a mix of patients.

We've got older patients and those with chronic conditions that are coming in fairly sick. One out of every two of those patients is getting admitted to the hospital.

We're also seeing a lot of younger patients who have who have fairly typical flu symptoms. Earlier in the season those were mild. Now we're seeing the typical cough, headache, runny nose, muscle aches, pains and fever. Most of those patients we are able to discharge home with good care for themselves.

It's been a surprising season in how early it started. We saw our first case in September. Last year we saw our first case in January. It's a fairly severe season in that more people are contracting flu than they have in the past.

No one is positive as two why but there seem to be two main factors. First, the vaccine that was released, although it is the right match, just doesn't seem to be as effective as in some previous years. Fortunately, in the middle of the season, we changed flu strains and the vaccine is more effective now.

Second, after a bad flu season more people get vaccinated. But then when people say it wasn't bad last year, less and less people get vaccinated. This year we had a very low vaccination rate, which means that more people are vulnerable to the flu that's out there.

I am absolutely recommending the vaccination right now because it takes about two weeks to be effective. Maine hasn't peaked yet and the rest of the country is seeing what they think are going to be their highest levels flu. We're not there yet. And in two weeks we've got winter break, so those who are going on vacation somewhere else, you don't want to bring the flu back as a souvenir. And it's also Tourney Week and we're all going to be coming into the same place and breathing on each other and you certainly want to be as protected as you can before that.

Washing hands to ward off the flu is critical. The flu virus can live on the surfaces that we touch so we need to make sure we are washing our hands where other people could have coughed or breathed the flu virus on to them. It's really one of the most important things that we can do to keep from picking up the flu or sharing it with others.

We also want give people a little distance. Whether they are sick or not we know this time of year people are breathing out and coughing out a lot of things we don't want to get. So respecting personal space is even more important during flu season.