As influenza season accelerates in Maine – with 3,020 confirmed cases so far this flu season – two schools in southern Maine closed on Monday after rampant illnesses among students.

Edna Libby Elementary School in Standish and Sanford Christian School closed on Monday and disinfected their buildings. Edna Libby, with a student population of 277, reported 35 percent of its students were absent on Friday. Both schools were expected to reopen Tuesday.

Paul Penna, superintendent of School Administrative District 6, which includes Bonny Eagle High School, said the district consulted with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention before closing Edna Libby. Another school, Buxton Center Elementary School, also has been hit hard by illness but not enough to warrant closure, Penna said.

“Buxton Center recorded 32 students (sick) out of 585 today and one reported a medical confirmed case of the flu,” Penna said in an email response to questions. “The 35 percent of students absent from Edna Libby on Friday was a combination of parent callouts and confirmed cases of the flu influenza. We support parents making the best decision for their family with regard to their health.”

According to the Maine CDC, if a school reports 15 percent of its students absent for an illness and more than half have respiratory symptoms, that’s considered an outbreak, although it’s up to each school to decide whether to close for illness. There have been seven outbreaks at K-12 schools this flu season, according to Maine CDC statistics. Long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, have reported 16 outbreaks out of the 31 total outbreaks at specific facilities this season.

Sanford Christian Academy said in a Facebook post that school officials decided to close the school for the day Monday because “so many kids and teachers” were absent because of illness.

Overall, there were 685 new confirmed flu cases for the week ending Jan. 25, a 29 percent increase. Of the total 3,020 cases this flu season – which runs from October through May – 199 people were hospitalized and 10 people died. The strains circulating have been predominantly influenza A (H1N1) and influenza B (Victoria).

In the 2018-19 flu season, there were 10,313 cases in Maine, but the peak of the flu season arrived later, in February and March. Influenza is unpredictable and can peak at different times during the same season. Some seasons, a certain strain of flu will peak early, but a second, different strain will emerge later in the season. The best prevention for the flu is to get a flu shot, according to the U.S. CDC, and it is still not too late to get vaccinated. Also, people should practice good hygiene, such as frequent hand washing, covering the mouth when coughing and staying home from school or work when sick.

Scientists are still gathering information about the effectiveness of this season’s flu vaccine, so its effectiveness is not yet known, the U.S. CDC said. In past seasons, effectiveness has ranged from a low of 19 percent in 2014-15 to a high of 60 percent in 2010-11, with most years the effectiveness in the 40 to 50 percent range. Those who get vaccinated but still contract the flu typically have milder symptoms and are not sick for as long, research has shown.

Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long said agency has worked with school systems to prevent the flu.

“The Maine Immunization Program has distributed 112,640 doses of influenza vaccine across the state targeted for vaccinating children,” Long said. “At the beginning of the flu season in late September, the public health nursing program worked with the Maine Immunization Program and community partners to offer flu clinics for school systems that requested them.”

Maine has not recorded any cases of coronavirus, which began as an outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan. China has reported more than 17,000 cases of coronavirus and 360 deaths, and the World Health Organization has declared the virus a global health emergency. Only a handful of cases have been reported in the United States.

 

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