It's definitely over -- at least for now.

State health officials said Wednesday that only one Minnesotan was hospitalized with H1N1 flu last week and that their 50 "sentinel'' clinics around the state reported no patients with flu-like illness. Meanwhile, the state's flu hot line received only 210 calls for the entire week -- down from 600 a day during the October peak of the pandemic.

"At this point it's safe to say that the second wave is done," said Kris Ehresmann, head of immunizations for the Minnesota Department of Health. "We are in this lull."

At the same time, there is now plenty of H1N1 vaccine in the state. More than 2 million doses have been distributed to clinics statewide, enough for nearly half the population.

The vaccine also is now finding its way to pharmacies, and by next week should be available at retail outlets such as Cub Foods and Target, Ehresmann said.

But the lull in activity does not mean that flu is over for the winter. Although there have been no significant reports of seasonal flu, a different strain, it could pop up at any time.

Or not.

"Now that H1N1 is taking a holiday, so to speak, will seasonal influenza be resurgent? We don't know," Ehresmann said.

Public health officials in Minnesota and nationally are also waiting to see if H1N1 comes back in a third wave yet this winter, a frequent occurrence in previous pandemics. They are still encouraging people to get the H1N1 vaccine to prevent a third wave.

In its weekly update of flu statistics, the Department of Health reported for the second week in a row that there was only one hospitalization.

There was one H1N1-related death, which occurred before last week. Confirmation of H1N1-related deaths can take several weeks, and as a result they are considered a lagging indicator of flu activity.

Has public just forgotten?

Even though calls to the flu hot line have declined sharply, officials said that may be in part because the public has forgotten about H1N1. Nurses on the hot line can provide advice to people who are concerned about whether they have flu. They can also provide over-the-phone prescriptions for antiviral medications for people who meet medical criteria.

At the peak of the pandemic, 10 to 12 percent of callers were getting prescriptions, said Deb Radi, who manages the hot line for the Health Department. Now it's 1 to 2 percent.

Since May, when the pandemic first emerged in Minnesota, there have been 52 H1N1-associated deaths, five unspecified flu deaths and one death related to influenza B -- 58 in all. Since May, 1,828 people have been hospitalized for H1N1.

Most of that activity occurred in the second wave of infection, which took off in early September along with the start of school.

Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394

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