Flu season is here, and Kentucky has already seen one death from it; health officials urge all 6 months and older to get a shot

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The 2018-19 flu season has barely started, but Kentucky has already reported its first flu-related death — in Lexington, according to the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department. The flu killed 325 people in Kentucky in the last flu season.

Flu is a very contagious disease caused by the influenza virus that spreads from person to person. Symptoms include fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches.

An antiviral drug can shorten the course of the illness or reduce its severity if given within two days of a person getting the flu, but there is no real treatment for the disease, and that’s why health officials encourage everyone six months and older to get a flu shot.

“There’s no treatment for the flu,” Dr. Ryan Stanton, a Lexington emergency-room physician, told WKYT-TV. “Our only fight against this is prevention.”

Concern that the state will experience another flu epidemic like last season has prompted a statewide “Focus on Flu” campaign to encourage Kentuckians to get their flu shot. The campaign is being led by doctors, health agencies and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. Their message: “Get your shot! Consult your doc! Stop the spread!”

And it’s a message for sharing. Kentucky ranks 33rd in the nation for the number of people who get a flu shot, and at the campaign’s kick-off rally in September, it was reported that only 40 percent of Kentuckians got a flu shot last flu season.

And while a flu shot won’t guarantee that a person won’t get infected, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it will reduce the risk of infection by 40 to 60 percent, and it has been shown to reduce the severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.

Experts also recommend that people get the shot early, because it takes about two weeks after the vaccination for the recipient to develop immunity.

Contrary to a pervasive myth, the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.

The CDC says “flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness” because the vaccine is made from flu viruses that have been “inactivated” or “killed” and thus are not infectious, or from a single gene from a flu virus, as opposed to the full virus, which allows a person to produce an immune response without getting the infection.

The CDC recommends that everyone over six months of age get a flu vaccination every year, and especially people who may be at higher risk for complications or negative consequences. They include:

• Children age six months through 59 months;
• Women who are or will be pregnant during the flu season;
• Persons 50 years of age or older;
• Persons with extreme obesity (body-mass index of 40 or greater);
• Persons aged six months and older with chronic health problems;
• Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
• Household contacts and caregivers of children younger than 5 and adults 50 and older.
• Household contacts and caregivers or people who live with a person at high-risk for complications from the flu; and
• Health care workers, including physicians, nurses, medical emergency-response workers, employees of nursing home and long-term care facilities who have contact with patients or residents, and students in these professions who will have contact with patients.

And don’t forget to use common-sense practices: wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and stay home when you are sick to stop the spread of infection.

If you’re looking for a place to get your flu shot, the CDC offers an interactive “flu vaccine finder” that allows you to type in your zip-code to find nearby locations that offer flu shots. Local health departments also offer the vaccine.

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