The flu has arrived earlier than usual in Maine this season, prompting health officials to ramp up their annual push for vaccination against the illness.

Multiple hospitals in the state have reported positive lab tests for influenza, according to a Sept. 13 alert issued to health providers by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Two cases confirmed by further testing included an individual who had recently traveled outside the country and another who had not, indicating that the illness is circulating both within Maine and abroad.

One of the individuals was hospitalized, according to the alert.

The flu season typically begins in early October, but health officials are urging patients to get vaccinated earlier than usual because the illness is already present in Maine. The illness’ spread typically peaks in January and February but can continue into May.

Both Influenza A and B strains are circulating nationally. This season’s quadrivalent flu vaccine, which protects against four strains of the illness, is likely to be effective against them, according to health officials. If that vaccine is not readily available, the CDC recommends getting the trivalent vaccine, which protects against three strains, as soon as possible.

How well the vaccine protects against influenza varies from season to season and can depend on the individual. The vaccine is reformulated each year to match emerging strains of the illness.

Health officials recommend that everyone older than 6 months of age be immunized against the flu, even if they were vaccinated last season. People with health conditions that place them at high risk for flu complications should be vaccinated right away.

A new study exploring a link between the flu vaccine and miscarriages has prompted concerns about the safety of the immunization. But both the CDC and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists continue to recommend that all pregnant women receive the flu vaccine, advice that’s based on a multitude of previous studies.

Women who are pregnant are at higher risk of serious illness or death from the flu, which can also result in serious birth defects. Immunization among mothers additionally protects newborns too young to receive the vaccine.

The study did not claim that the vaccine caused miscarriage, only that there was a possible link when the immunization was administered in very early pregnancy. Women who had miscarriages tended to have received the flu vaccine two years in a row — between 2010 and 2012, after a new swine flu vaccine came out — while getting the vaccine once resulted in no association.

“Scientifically, it is unclear why this would occur … There is insufficient information to support changing the current recommendation which is to offer and encourage routine flu vaccinations during pregnancy regardless of the trimester of pregnancy,” ACOG said in a statement.

To further reduce your chances of catching and spreading the illness this season, wash your hands regularly, cover your coughs and stay home if you’re sick.

Symptoms of the flu virus include fever, muscle aches, headache, cough, sore throat and runny nose. The illness spreads from person to person primarily by coughing and sneezing.

Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and...