Respiratory viruses keep declining in Kentucky, but might be headed for plateau at ‘elevated level; flu up; study shows updated Covid-19 vaccine works

By Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News

Emergency department visits and hospital admissions for respiratory-related illness in Kentucky have declined four weeks in a row, but the state health department still considers the state’s rates of influenza, Covid-19 and respiratory syncytial virus to be elevated.

Health officials say the best way to protect yourself from these viruses is to stay up to date with your vaccines.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months old and older get the annual flu vaccine and updated Covid-19 vaccines, especially children younger than 5 or anyone at high risk for complications.

Vaccines for respiratory syncitial virus (RSV) are recommended for some infants and young children, pregnant women and adults 60 and older, although a shortage of the vaccine has been reported.

A report published Feb. 1 in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report says early estimates show that people who have gotten the updated Covid-19 vaccine saw about 54% more protection against symptomatic Covid-19 infection than those who have not gotten the updated vaccination.

“Updated Covid-19 vaccines provide protection against symptomatic infection, including against currently circulating lineages,” the report says.

The report shows the updated vaccine provides protection against the JN.1 strain of Covid-19, which became predominant in January of this year, and other circulating strains of the virus.

Respiratory viruses in Kentucky

Emergency department visits for respiratory-associated illness in Kentucky in the week ended Jan. 27  stayed about the same as the week prior, dropping 3% from the week prior, to 3,187. But that was much less than the drops of around 20% seen in the previous three weeks, and flu cases showed show a slight uptick, indicating that respiratory virus activity may be headed for a plateau at elevated levels.

Respiratory-related hospital admissions in Kentucky dropped 5% from the week prior, when they dropped 23%. And just like the emergency-department visits, flu was the only one of the three respiratory diseases tracked by the state to show a slight uptick.

Even with these declines, the state Department for Public Health says hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses remain high.

None of Kentucky’s counties had high rates of Covid-19 hospital admissions in the week ended Jan. 27, but 21 of them had admission rates between 10 and 19.9 per 100,000 people, which the CDC considers a “medium” rate. Counties with a medium risk of Covid-19 hospitalization are in northeastern and western areas of the state.

In the week ended Jan. 27, the state reported 3,377 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu, up 2.5% from the week prior. It reported 1,994 laboratory-confirmed cases of Covid-19, down 3.6% from the week prior.

Since the first week in October, 267 Kentuckians have died from Covid-19, and 28 have died from the flu, the health departnment says. One Covid-19 victim and one flu victim were children.

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