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Swine flu infections appear to be decreasing locally

Michael Hartman, 10, steadies his mother, Julie Hartman-Pellerito

Michael Hartman, 10, steadies his mother, Julie Hartman-Pellerito of Plandome while she gets vaccinated for swine flu. Hartman-Pellerito, who is pregnant, was one of about 300 pregnant women who showed up at the Nassau County Health Department in Uniondale for free shots on Nov. 16 2009. Photo Credit: Newsday File / Ridgely Ochs

The rate of swine flu appears to be decreasing nationally and locally, though health officials say it is too early to say whether the virus has peaked or if a third wave is yet to come.

"It looks like the rate is declining but we have never seen this flu before," said Jeff Dimond, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We don't know how many waves there may be."

The CDC and the New York State Department of Health have reported a drop in the rate of H1N1 for several weeks. Still both agencies said there's more flu activity than normal at this time.

During the week of Nov. 22-28, the number of states reporting widespread cases of the flu fell from 32 to 25, the CDC reported Friday. Visits to doctors for flu-like illness declined, and flu-related hospitalizations and deaths also continued to decrease. Still, the virus remained lethal, killing 17 children during the week.

Mirroring the country, New York's flu activity and hospitalizations also fell, the state health department said.

But the state said the level of H1N1 flu activity remains high, confirmed by the CDC reports for the region that includes New York and New Jersey. Nationally, the percent positive for H1N1 flu was 15.4 percent; that number was 23.7 percent in the region that includes New York.

Local health officials said they also were seeing a decrease in flulike illness. Suffolk's acting health commissioner, Dr. Linda Mermelstein, said the health department was getting fewer reports from schools and emergency rooms.

But Mermelstein agreed the virus remains unpredictable and is in its second wave since it first appeared last spring.

"I think the biggest message is that people should continue to get vaccinated," she said.

Nassau's health commissioner, Dr. Maria Torroella Carney, agreed, saying, "We need to be prepared for a wave from January to February."

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