By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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“We still see isolated cases of influenza,” added Dr. Tom Locke, public health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties.
“You can diagnose influenza cases all year long if you look carefully enough, but we’re out of the outbreak period where we’re seeing sustained transmission communitywide.”
Flu transmission dropped below baseline earlier this month, prompting Locke and his counterpart in Kitsap County, Dr. Scott Lindquist, to declare the end of flu season in their respective jurisdictions March 11.
The declaration means that unvaccinated health care workers, however few, are no longer required to wear masks around their patients.
“So a week ago today, the masks came off,” Locke told the Clallam County Board of Health on Tuesday.
The vaccination rates for health care workers at Olympic Medical Center, Jefferson Healthcare and Forks Community Hospital are well over 90 percent.
This year’s predominate strain was the H1N1 swine flu, which caused a global pandemic in 2009 but leads to less-severe symptoms than other types of flu.
The vaccine was readily available this year and protected against H1N1, H3N2 and other strains.
“It was a fairly mild flu season: lower rates of hospitalization, lower rates of mortality than you would see in a more typical flu season,” Locke told the health board.
“And the reason is likely only one strain of flu, the H1N1 strain, constituted almost all the detectable cases this year. This was the 2009 pandemic strain, and it’s just a milder form of influenza than the other types.”
There were no flu-related deaths in Clallam or Jefferson counties this past winter.
The state Department of Health reported 63 laboratory-confirmed, influenza-associated deaths statewide from last July 21 through March 8.
State health officials estimate that about 700 people die from the flu every year, but most cases go unreported, Locke has said.
Since fewer samples of suspected influenza are tested in labs after the peak of flu season, there is no way to know how many people had the flu.
The state Health Department reported 151 lab-confirmed cases between Feb. 8 and March 8.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.