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Patrick Springer, Published March 31 2010

No signs seen locally of third wave of H1N1 flu

Swine flu in the area remains quiet and so far shows no signs of a third wave of the epidemic, public health officials said Tuesday.

In Fargo-Moorhead, as well as in North Dakota, the peak of the swine flu epidemic was last fall, in October and November, and infection rates generally have remained low since then.

Areas of the southeastern United States, including Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina, recently have noted a rise in swine flu infections.

If a third wave of infections comes from the swine flu pandemic, it likely would be in areas where few people have been vaccinated or were infected by the H1N1 virus, health officials have said.

North Dakota’s flu surveillance program has counted four flu deaths in 2009-10, including two in Cass County. Two of those flu deaths were attributed to the new swine flu virus, H1N1, according to the North Dakota Department of Health.

“We’ve really been at low activity for a month in North Dakota,” said epidemiologist Michelle Feist, who directs North Dakota’s flu surveillance program. “If there is a sign of a third wave coming on, we don’t know that yet.”

North Dakota has confirmed 3,247 flu cases in 2009-10, including 543 H1N1 infections. Cass County had 301 flu cases, including 44 H1N1 cases.

Minnesota has documented 67 flu deaths, including 60 associated with H1N1, according the Minnesota Department of Health. Although Minnesota confirmed two H1N1 deaths since mid-March, one of those deaths came last November.

In Clay County, four people were hospitalized with swine flu during the outbreak, and 60 were hospitalized in west-central Minnesota, said Kathy Anderson, director of nursing for Clay County Public Health.

No schools or nursing homes in Minnesota reported flu-like illnesses in the most recent reporting period, nor have any of Minnesota’s “sentinel” health providers, a situation similar to North Dakota.

Public health officials urge parents to make sure their children ages 6 months to 9 years have had both doses of the swine flu vaccine to protect against infection.

Vaccinations are available at no cost at both Fargo Cass Public Health and Clay County Public health by appointment.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522