The Maine Center for Disease Control says five more people have died from the flu in the past week, even as the number of new cases and hospitalizations slowed.

The state said Wednesday that the number of new confirmed cases dropped 23 percent from the week before to 497, and the number of hospitalizations dropped by half to 54. Overall, the statistics suggest the number of influenza cases has dropped for a fourth week. 

The state is reporting that another three people have died from the flu in Maine this week, bringing the season's total to 55. There is, though, some hope that the worst of flu season could be ending.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Siiri Bennett says hospitalizations due to influenza appear to be decreasing. At the same time, health care visits for flu like-illness have not dropped.

“We fully expect to see several more weeks of influenza activity, at least,” says Bennett. “Now, whether or not we see another peak, we hope not, we hope that we are now on the downward slide.”

The flu season continues to hit both the United States and Maine hard. The number of flu cases in Maine specifically continues to climb, according to a Maine Center for Disease Control weekly surveillance report. Last week, 876 new cases were reported, compared to about 530 cases the week before.

Last week also saw five deaths due to the flu in Maine, bringing the total this season to 34.

Maine Medical Center epidemiologist Dr. August Valenti says if you develop the flu, it's important to take extra precautions.

Pat Wellenbach / Associated Press/file

Twenty-one Mainers have died so far this season from the flu. That's according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

But Maine CDC epidemiologist Sara Robinson says that number is likely a little low. She says while 21 people had the flu listed as the cause of death on their death certificates, many more people die from other causes, as a result of having it.

PORTLAND, Maine - Widespread influenza across Maine has prompted the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland to alter some traditions to keep parishioners healthy.
The diocese announced Thursday that it's suspending the sharing of consecrated wine during communion and holding hands during the Lord's Prayer. The diocese is also discouraging parishioners from shaking hands while greeting each other during the passing of the peace.

With flu season ahead, researchers at University of Maine say they've uncovered another reason to get a flu shot - especially for those with muscle disorders.

"The flu virus actually gets into your muscle cells," says Associate Professor Clarissa Henry, "so this is the first time it's been shown in a live animal."

PORTLAND, Maine - Health officials say Maine has experienced a late-season flu surge with half of the state's influenza cases happening in the month of March.
Dr. Siiri Bennett, the state epidemiologist, tells the Portland Press Herald that "there's still a lot of flu out there.''
It has been a busy flu season. Through April 1, Maine has had 4,188 positive tests for influenza viruses. That compares to 2,360 for all of the last flu season.

AUGUSTA, Maine - The flu is making its way throughout Maine, but it's not too late to get vaccinated.
The Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed cases of influenza in the state's sixteen counties.
The CDC has followed up on seven outbreaks this flu season.
But there's good news: State Epidemiologist Siiri Bennett says the vaccine appears to be a good match to all strains this year.

AUGUSTA, Maine - The flu season has arrived in Maine.

The state Health Department says the first positive Influenza A case was detected by Mid Coast Hospital late last week. It was an adult from Sagadahoc County who wasn't vaccinated and didn't require hospitalization.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an annual flu vaccine as the first and best way to protect against influenza. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine annually.

Fatalities in the U.S. due to flu and pneumonia have reached epidemic levels, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, with the illnesses accounting for 837 deaths nationwide during the second-to-last week of 2014.

The federal Centers for Disease Control says this year's flu season could be severe. That's because this year's flu vaccine doesn't match the dominant strain being found.

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Sheila Pinette says flu vaccines are prepared the year before.

"Last year in mid-February, when they had come up with the preparation of the vaccine for this coming 2014-2015 season, the World Health Organization did not see a high circulation world-wide, actually, of the strain that we are presently using," Pinette says.

AUGUSTA, Maine - Maine has confirmed its first case of seasonal flu.  Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Sheila Pinette, says the case turned up in Lincoln County in an unvaccinated adult.

The patient had not traveled recently, did not require hospitalization and is recovering at home, Pinette says. She says the virus was identified as an Influenza A strain.

She says both Influenza A and B strains are circulating across the nation.