There’s good news on the flu front: The bug isn’t going around.

Not yet, anyway.

U.S. Army health officers in Europe said Monday that influenza activity is low, essentially, nonexistent.

With the U.S. European Command, “there have been no confirmed cases of influenza yet this year, and influenza-like illness is within normal limits and below last year’s rates,” according to a weekly summary issued by the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine-Europe.

The summary, released Monday afternoon, also noted that influenza activity throughout the Department of Defense appears low.

“It’s certainly encouraging … that we haven’t found much,” said Maj. James Mancuso, the center’s chief of epidemiology.

The good news comes at a time when health officials in Europe have, or are in the process of, receiving much-needed doses of the flu vaccine.

For the fourth time this month, a shipment of vaccines arrived Monday at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center, Europe, in Pirmasens, Germany.

A fifth shipment arrived in early October.

The plan has been to get these vaccines out to community hospitals and medical clinics for deploying troops and high-risk patients.

The latter group includes young children, pregnant women, senior citizens, folks with chronic medical conditions and health care providers, said Cynthia Vaughan, spokeswoman for Europe Army Regional Medical Command.

Medical materiel center personnel “are beginning to ship [doses of the vaccine] out to the clinics,” Vaughan said.

“They should be there by next week.”

In addition, the last of three shipments for the troops in Iraq and Kuwait arrived last week in Pirmasens.

Like the previous loads, the vaccines were moved south in short order.

“If they have not already received their flu shot, they will be getting it, too,” Vaughan said of the troops stationed in the Middle East.

For force protection reasons, medical officials in Europe would not say how many doses have arrived in theater or the number flown to Iraq.

As of Monday, the medical command has received about 95 percent of the doses it requested earlier for deploying personnel and high-risk patients, Vaughan said.

There are “sufficient vaccinations to cover our high-risk beneficiaries and deploying soldiers and health care workers with direct patient contact,” said Army Col. Kent Bradley, a preventive medicine consultant assigned to the command.

Bradley said people commonly confuse the flu with the common cold. While there are overlapping symptoms, the flu is characterized by high fever, respiratory infections, severe muscle aches and fatigue.

A cold just doesn’t have the staying power of the flu.

The timing of the vaccine shipments couldn’t have been better. The flu season in Europe typically doesn’t reach a fever pitch until December or January, Bradley said.

The 2003-04 flu season was particularly difficult, according to Mancuso, with 54 confirmed cases of the illness, but the rates in Europe are still lower than rates among U.S. forces elsewhere around the world.

In short, Bradley and other health officials said, if you’re sick it’s best to remain home, avoid close contact with healthy individuals, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, keep your hands clean and get plenty of rest.

In recent months, concerns over a possible flu epidemic have heightened because of a vaccine shortage.

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