January 23, 2002 11:00 pm

It may be later than usual, but the flu is coming.

Dr. James Winde, Union Countys public health officer, said Wednesday that the flu may not reach Union County until early February.

It hasnt hit (the U.S.) real hard yet, he said. Its probably been delayed because of the 9-11 attack that slowed down travel. I think it will be about two weeks late.

The delay gives people who have not been immunized against flu a chance to get their shots. The public health department at the Center for Human Development gives flu immunizations from 1 to 6:30 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays and from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Theres plenty of vaccine left, public health nurse Trisha Blackman said Wednesday.

Union County medical clinics are prepared to record the number of flu cases in the county, Winde said.

Theres an influenza surveillance network set up here, he said. Kits were sent out by the state, and theyre free. All the clinics have them.

Using the kits, doctors administer a mouthwash or a nasal swab to people suspected of having the flu. The cultures are sent to the states health division for analysis.

Union Countys isolated location makes it an ideal place for flu measurement, Winde said.

Were a controlled environment, because were geographically isolated, he said.

The flu surveillance method does not help the patient who is ill, because it takes about three days to get the results from the state.

Were working on a way to tell quickly, he said, but thats a couple of years away from perfection.

Winde said he has not seen any identified cases of flu this year, but he has seen a number of viral illnesses with symptoms of high fever, headache and abdominal pain.

From Observer staff reports