CHATAN, Okinawa — Unlike in the United States, the flu season on Okinawa has so far been quiet.

There is a plentiful supply of influenza vaccine available at the U.S. Naval Hospital, base clinics and local medical centers, officials said last week. There’s also an adequate supply of medicine in storage to treat anyone with flu-like symptoms.

But except for long lines at the immunization clinics, you wouldn’t know it’s the beginning of flu season.

In fact, there have been far fewer cases here this season than during the same period last year.

“Compared to the number of patients we had seen at this time last year, the outbreak is much smaller this year,” said Hideto Nakama of the prefectural Health Promotion Division.

“Last December, there were 671 flu patients,” he said. “But as of last week, the middle of December, there have been only 14.”

According to his records, there were 25,853 patients treated for influenza between November 2002 and April 2003. There were seven flu-related deaths, mostly older patients.

This year since Nov. 1, only 29 cases have been reported — and there have been no deaths.

No cases have been reported at Camp Lester’s U.S. Naval Hospital, Community Health Director Lt. Cmdr. Dale Baker said.

“We’re doing very good here on the island,” he said.

Active-duty servicemembers are required to get flu shots, he said. And there is always an adequate vaccine supply for everyone else.

Clinic crowds the last few weeks are unusual and driven by “media hype,” he said.

Baker, who has been on Okinawa for 2½ years, said the flu has not been a major problem during that time.

“The season here maybe lasts until March, and we’ve had maybe a couple of isolated cases — onesies and twosies, we call them,” he said. “Nothing that we’d call an outbreak.”

Nonetheless, servicemembers’ families are concerned about the stateside outbreak.

“We’ve seen some travelers coming into the clinic with their children, getting ready for trips back home for the holidays,” Baker said.

No cases have been reported at Adventist Medical Center in Nishihara either.

“We check every patient who visits our hospital complaining of cold, but so far no one turned out positive,” said Yoshiko Hirakawa, outpatient department chief nurse. “So far, no one has recently been diagnosed as having the flu.”

The hospital staff is well aware of the near-epidemic in the United States and is prepared for a possible outbreak on Okinawa.

“We ordered sufficient flu shots this year,” she said. “Also, we have plenty anti-flu medicines.”

She said it’s too early to determine if Okinawa will be spared a flu outbreak this winter.

“Such outbreaks usually reach us a couple of weeks after they appear on the Japanese mainland,” she said.

“Since the flu usually arrives by people flying here from the mainland, we get it later. For instance, if it starts in December in Tokyo, it probably would be January or even February before it would spread to Okinawa.

“But once it is brought in, it is very quick to spread.”

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