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Light flu season around the Tri-State area

March 21, 2002|DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

In Berkeley County, W.Va., the number of reported influenza-like cases dropped by almost 38 percent this winter, while the county health department gave out about 38 percent more flu shots this flu season than last.

To County Health Department Acting Nurse Director Sandy LeMaster, the message is clear.

"More people were vaccinated and it paid off," she said last week.

LeMaster said that at this time last winter there were 2,224 reported flu-like cases and 1,173 people had been vaccinated. This winter, 1,388 reported flu-like cases had been reported by last week and 1,906 people were vaccinated.

The flu vaccinations were strongly encouraged this flu season as a way to reduce false anthrax scares. The flu and early stages of anthrax produce similar symptoms, LeMaster said.

In Washington County, about 2,000 more flu shots were given this year than last.

It was not known what impact that had because records from past years were unavailable, said Cathy Webb, Health Department program supervisor for communicable disease.

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Webb said as of last week, this flu season hasn't been any worse than in recent years, and that the peak flu season months are past.

The flu season can run from November through April, but typically peaks in January or February.

Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel said one sign the flu season has been lighter than usual is that school absentee rates have been lower.

Absenteeism has been around 10 percent, he said. Last year, school absenteeism was around 16 percent, and is normally about 12 percent, he said.

As of last week, it had been a light flu season in Pennsylvania, said Richard McGarvey, a spokesman for the state Department of Health.

McGarvey said the number of flu shots given out was "about average."

He said the state does not track the number of flu cases each year, but feels this season has been better than others based on conversations with doctors and hospital officials.

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