Flu activity increases in Kentucky; health officials urge all 6 months and older to get vaccinated, and to wash your hands

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky’s influenza level has just been updated to “widespread,” prompting health officials and advocates to encourage Kentuckians to get their flu shot — and to keep their hands washed.

“We strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t received a flu vaccine, particularly children six months and older and those people at high risk for complications related to the flu, to get a flu shot,” Dr. Jeff Howard, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said in a news release.

He added, “Also remember to cover your cough and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth because germs are spread this way. Be sure to frequently wash your hands with soap and water and stay home if you are sick with flu-like illness.”

A recent Kentucky Health Issues Poll found that about half of Kentucky adults got a flu shot in the last 12 months, more than in previous flu seasons, but the Kentucky Medical Association, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Kentucky Foundation for Medical Care, which have led a “Focus on Flu” campaign this year to encourage Kentuckians to get vaccinated, note that this still leaves almost half of the state’s adults vulnerable to this potentially deadly virus.

“It’s not too late to get a flu shot, which can protect you but also help prevent further spread to others,” they wrote in a statement. “We’re particularly concerned about infants who are too young to get the vaccine as well as those with compromised immune systems for whom exposure to the flu poses the greatest danger. But even otherwise healthy people are at risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death from the flu.”

A “widespread” classification is the highest level of flu activity and is used when at least half of the state’s 17 health regions have increased activity.

As of Dec. 29, Kentucky had 1,457 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu, which is comparable to the number of cases at the same time last year, 1,411, according to the weekly influenza surveillance report.

The report says there have been four adult deaths and one pediatric death linked to the flu this season. Last year, more than 300 Kentuckians, including five children, died from the flu.

Louisville has been one of the hardest hit areas in the state, with 875 cases reported this season and 570 of those reported the week of Dec. 23-29, according to the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness‘s weekly influenza report.

Insider Louisvillereports that Norton Healthcare‘s immediate-care centers, which are located in Louisville, Southern Indiana and Shepherdsville, saw an increase of cases in late December, going from 66 cases the week that ended Dec. 15 to 286 cases the week that ended Dec. 22.

Dr. Roger Humphries, chair of UK Healthcare‘s Department of Emergency Medicine, told Kentucky Health News that they have seen a lot of flu activity this year, especially in kids. He added that the hospitals’s pediatric emergency department has seen about 10 to 15 kids a day with the flu since mid-December.

A spokeswoman for Baptist Health Lexington said they had seen 47 patients in their emergency room since Dec. 15, which she described as a “large number” of cases, noting that this number does not include patients from their urgent care centers or express care centers.

Flu is very contagious and is especially dangerous to small children, the elderly and those who have chronic health conditions. It is caused by a virus that spreads from person to person. Symptoms include fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches.

Persons who develop symptoms should contact their medical provider immediately to determine if they are a good candidate for treatment with an antiviral drug, which could shorten the course of the illness or reduce its severity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone over six months of age get a flu vaccination, and especially encourages people who may be at higher risk for complications or negative consequences get one, including children 6 months to 5 years old and their caregivers, women who are or might be pregnant during flu season, people 50 and older and their caregivers, obese people, those with chronic health problems, residents of long-term care facilities and health care workers.

Vaccinations can be given any time during the flu season, but take about two weeks following the administration of the vaccine for the recipient to develop protection from the flu. Flu season usually peaks between December and February, but can last as late as May.

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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