Only 145 confirmed flu cases have been reported in state this season, but health commissioner says it’s too early to call it mild

State Department for Public Health map shows confirmed flu cases so far this season.

By Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News
Kentucky has confirmed one-sixth as many flu cases this season as at this time last season, but the state’s top doctor says it’s too soon to read much into that.
“It is too early to celebrate a mild influenza season in Kentucky,” Health Commissioner Steven Stack in an e-mail. “The onset of peak influenza season varies from year to year, and while this year has started mildly compared to last year, it is generally in line with the start of 2017-18 and 2018-19.”
Stack wasn’t ready to say that the public-health measures being urged to slow the spread of the coronavirus were resulting in fewer flu cases — yet.
“If all Kentuckians wear their masks, maintain social distancing, and stay home when sick,” he said, “then Kentucky could suppress both influenza and covid-19 and keep people healthy and well.”
DPH graph; for a larger version, click on it.

The latest weekly report from Stack’s Department for Public Health shows that in the week ended Nov. 21, Kentucky counted 14 new flu cases, for a total of 145 this season.

At the same time last year, there had already been 275 new cases reported, with 785 cases reported for the season.
No flu-related deaths have been reported this year. Last season, there were 162. The season runs through May.
The latest report says the current flu level is “local,” which means there have been outbreaks or increases in cases in a single region of the state. The report shows increasing flu activity in Magoffin, Johnson, Martin, Floyd and Pike counties in Eastern Kentucky.
Pike, the largest of those counties, had the most confirmed cases this week, seven. The counties with the most confirmed cases this season are Allen, with 33, Perry with 15, and Pike with 24.
With the flu season and the pandemic both in full swing, health officials are saying it is more important than ever to get a flu shot, which is recommended for all adults and children over the age of 6 months.
This stronger-than-usual recommendation is largely out of concern that an influx of flu patients — along with the current escalation of covid-19 patients — could overwhelm the state’s already strained hospital system.
“We must all work to preserve our state’s hospitals and healthcare workers so they can be prepared for a potential influx of covid-19 patients. By encouraging everyone to get a flu vaccine, we can reduce the impact of influenza in Kentucky,” Dr. Jeff Reynolds,  medical director of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Kentucky, said in a news release to promote the “Raise Your Guard, KY: Focus on Flu” campaign.
In a Nov. 14 release, Stack encouraged Kentuckians to get a flu shot while waiting on a coronavirus vaccine to become widely available. He said an flu outbreak on top of the pandemic in the heart of flu season “would be disastrous.”
Last year, more than 27,408 cases of flu were reported in Kentucky. Since March, the state has had at least 194,193 coronavirus cases and 2,039 deaths related to the covid-19 disease.
Gov. Andy Beshear regularly warns that the current surge of covid-19 cases could easily overwhelm the state’s hospitals, noting that many of them are already having to adjust their services to accommodate the surge.
Another challenge for health-care providers is that symptoms of the flu and covid-19 are similar, but the treatments for them are different, so testing is needed to confirm a diagnosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is possible to get both diseases at the same time, and physicians caution that having more than one at a time increases your chance of going to the hospital.

“The best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated every year,” says the CDC. “Flu vaccines will not prevent covid-19, but they will reduce your chances of getting flu.”

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