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Unusually light flu season reported in region

Unusually light flu season reported in region

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It’s called the flu season, but maybe not in Washington and Saratoga counties.

Public health officials from those two counties said on Friday that neither Public Health office has seen a single clinically confirmed case of influenza.

And that could be a first.

“Zero. We’ve had zero confirmed cases,” said Marie Capezzuti,

Washington County’s infection control nurse, adding this may be the first year without a confirmed case in local history. “It’s not unusual for it to peak late, like in February, but for it to be March.”

Historic pandemics, which in some cases killed millions, have given the influenza virus a prominent place on the watch list of local, state and federal epidemiologists, becoming the worldwide zeitgeist of public health monitoring.

The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic is estimated to have killed between 50 million and 100 million people, making it the most deadly natural disaster in human history. War-torn Europe was especially hard hit by the virus that infected 27 percent of the planet’s human population, about 500 million people, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

The 2009 H1N1 swine flu outbreak killed about 18,000 people, according to data collected by the World Health Organization, and left international and national health organizations scrambling for a vaccine.

The young and elderly, and those with heart or lung diseases, are traditionally most hard hit by the typical flu winter/early spring outbreak, which annually kills about 23,600 Americans.

“Each time, the virus changed,” CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said of the past outbreaks.

But this season’s strain hasn’t evolved from that which circulated in previous years, meaning that available vaccinations are often killing it before it become established, officials said.

“People have carried over immunity and the vaccines are a good match,” Skinner said. “It’s been a relatively quiet season across the country.”

State Department of Health officials said that New York specifically has had an usually light flu season.

Nationwide mortality and infection rates so far in the 2011-12 flu season, which runs from mid-December to April and generally peaks in January and February, are running well behind previous outbreaks.

Local officials said the number of vaccines they’ve given out this year is on par with previous flu seasons.

The CDC tracks outbreaks through local and state reporting systems.

Skinner said some regional outbreaks have cropped up, but national and regional mortality and infection rates have generally remained well below normal.

“I can’t remember a time when we didn’t have a single case,” said Saratoga County Public Health Director Karen Levison. “It might be just the weather, but it seems like people are getting vaccinated and washing their hands, which we love to hear.”

While cold weather doesn’t directly impact the transmission of the virus, it does weaken the human immunity, increasing susceptibility, officials said.

Warren County Public Health officials said they’ve seen less than a handful of confirmed cases.

“We’ve had a lot of colds, but barely any flu,” said Pat Auer, director of Warren County Public Health. “We certainly have plenty of vaccine left.”

While vaccines have succeeded in wiping out many of humanity’s viral and bacterial scourges, they are often a primary contributor in the creation of new and more deadly, strains, acting as an extreme reproductive pressure and driving the almost instant evolution of an infection.

“Flu viruses are always changing,” Skinner said. “But we have a good surveillance system.”

And locally, public health officials are hopeful for no late-season outbreaks.

“We live in the North Country and the weather could always change,” Levison said.

But public health officials continue to champion the mantra of personal hygiene and self-quarantinization, adding that it’s not unheard of for a flu outbreak as late as May.

“Practice good etiquette and hand hygiene by covering coughs and sneezes and washing hands,” said state Health Department spokesman Jeff Hammond. “Everyday preventive actions also help prevent the spread of germs that cause illnesses like flu.”

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