Flu bug has apparently taken the winter off

| Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012

No one at Pac-Van Inc. has missed a day of work because of illness this winter.

"We have not seen any occurrences of flu this year, or much of anything else. I remember we had flu cases last year, including me," said Dan Martin, manager of the McKees Rocks company, a branch of a national firm that builds modular buildings and mobile offices.

Martin and his colleagues are not alone in their good health.

"We are having a very mild flu season this year. February is when you typically see the peak of flu cases," said Guillermo Cole, spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department, which monitors the number of flu cases.

Hance Elementary School in Pine-Richland School District is far bigger that Pac-Van and filled with small children who easily transmit infections. Yet school nurse Terry Wentz has seen no flu cases.

"We usually see some flu by this time of year. I did last winter. We are seeing some other things going around, but not the flu," she said.

No schools have reported high absenteeism to the county health department, Cole said.

Right now, doctors have diagnosed influenza in about 3 percent of people admitted to hospital emergency rooms in the county, health department records show. Last year at this time, 8.5 percent of people who visited emergency rooms were suffering from flu.

"That's not much higher than it is the summer, when it runs around 2 percent," Cole said.

Infection rates are similar elsewhere in Pennsylvania and most of the country, according to the state Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We do expect to see flu activity over the coming weeks. It is rare, but some flu seasons peak in March," said Holli Senior, a spokeswoman for the state health department.

The state logged reports of other respiratory illnesses that are not as severe as the flu, except in infants and the elderly, she said.

"This is a very mild winter. People are spending less time indoors. The flu spreads more readily in closed quarters," Cole said.

Health officials believe this year's vaccine was a good match to influenza strains, he said.

Wentz said school officials urge parents to immunize kids.

"We are pushing it for younger children, which is a newer recommendation," she said.

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