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As flu season ends, agencies plan for summer health issues

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Local public health officials are warning north country residents that just because the influenza season peaked early in the fall doesn’t mean they don’t need to remain cautious.

There also are other diseases people should be on the lookout for as summer approaches.

“We definitely have an eye on the H7N9 strain that’s been in China, but we’re not sure it’ll make it here,” said Marcia M. Ashline, Lewis County supervising public health nurse. “It’s a bird flu. We’re still trying to educate people on hand-washing and proper techniques.”

With people being outdoors more in the summer, Mrs. Ashline said, they should be on the lookout for deer ticks, as bacteria transmitted by them can cause Lyme disease. Public health officials, she said, also worry about mosquitoes and the potential to get West Nile virus or Eastern equine encephalitis from them.

While there are some lingering cases of influenza in Lewis County, Mrs. Ashline said, numbers are nowhere near where they were around November and December. The influenza peak was a few months earlier than its typical time frame here of February and March.

Throughout the entire 2012-13 influenza season in Lewis County, there were 285 laboratory-confirmed cases. The public health agency’s last confirmed case was about a month ago, Mrs. Ashline said.

Little vaccine is left, which she said people still may receive until it expires toward the end of June. Unused vaccine also can be returned to the state Department of Health for credit, she said.

Laurie B. Maki, St. Lawrence County Public Health preventive services supervisor, echoed Mrs. Ashline’s report, saying the Canton agency also has little unused vaccine remaining.

She said since Jan. 1, there have been 140 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases throughout St. Lawrence County, 36 of which occurred since April 1.

“Most of the cases being reported now are flu,” she said. “There could be more cases, but if they have not had laboratory testing to confirm influenza, then it is not included in database.”

Jefferson County Public Health Service spokesman Stephen A. Jennings said Jefferson County cases are similar to some throughout the state — sporadic.

While the peak soared to more than 700 confirmed cases in Jefferson County, Mr. Jennings said, there have been only 45 confirmed cases since Jan. 1, and seven of those were in May and influenza B.

Ms. Maki said the new flu vaccine for the 2013-14 season is anticipated to be distributed in late August and early September.

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