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Health officials say flu still a threat...

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While February is typically the peak of flu season throughout the north country, local public health officials said that peak might have long passed.

Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties’ public health agencies reported their highest numbers of flu cases in November and December, when several hundred confirmed laboratory cases were coming in. The number has tapered off to below 100 in each of the counties, but that doesn’t necessarily mean influenza isn’t here anymore.

People “should still be careful about protecting themselves against the flu,” said Carol A. Paluck, Lewis County public health director. “Because physicians are already aware it’s in the county, I’m not sure they’re testing as much. For the typical person, they won’t do much more than treat symptoms. I think people are still getting sick; we’re just not getting lab reports.”

That is also the case in St. Lawrence County, where only 71 confirmed cases have been reported since Jan. 1. Laurie B. Maki, St. Lawrence County public health preventive services supervisor, said the peak was in November and December.

Jefferson County health planner Faith E. Lustik said although it appears flu cases may be winding down throughout the north country, flu still is considered widespread throughout the state. Most confirmed cases have been influenza A, but now more influenza B confirmed cases are starting to pop up in many counties. Jefferson County has had only two laboratory confirmed influenza B cases, she said.

“We could have different strains,” Ms. Lustik said. “Even if you had flu A, you could get flu B.”

That is why Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties’ public health agencies will keep pushing people who have yet to be vaccinated to get their flu shots from their public health department, primary care physician or a pharmacy.

As of Jan. 1, there were only 40 laboratory confirmed cases in Jefferson County and 36 confirmed cases in Lewis County. Local health officials said the fact that cases are not confirmed doesn’t mean people are not sick with the flu.

According to the state Department of Health, the “virus can spread through coughing or sneezing, (and) it is important that family members and people who regularly come in contact with young children or individuals at high risk for the disease get vaccinated against influenza.”

Children younger than 6 months cannot get the vaccine.

Ms. Lustik said public health agencies here still consider flu season to be through the end of May and will monitor the virus until then.

For more information about the flu, visit the state Department of Health website, www.health.ny.gov.

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