Flu season has officially started and the illness is becoming widespread across the state. Health officials are encouraging individuals who have not yet been vaccinated to do so.
The Kentucky Department for Public Health reported to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention that influenza activity in the state increased from regional to widespread this week. At least half of the regions in the state are seeing increased flu-like activity or flu outbreaks. Widespread activity is the highest level of flu activity.
Flu season can begin as early as October and last through May, but usually peaks between January and March.
Regional epidemiologist Kristy Bolen said flu activity has been increasing locally for about the last three weeks. Combined with a stomach virus that has also been circulating, illnesses are starting to affect attendance at local schools.
“The vaccine is a really good match for the flu this year, and there is still time for people to get it to be protected over the holidays,” she said. The vaccine takes about two weeks to provide full protection against the illness, so Bolen encouraged individuals to get it this week.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends flu vaccine for 6 months and older. People who are especially encouraged to receive the flu vaccine, because they may be at higher risk for complications or negative consequences, include:
ages 6 months to 19 years;
ages 50 and older;
people of any age with chronic health problems;
people who live in nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities;
caregivers of or people who live with a person at high risk for complications from the flu; and
out-of-home caregivers of or people who live with those younger than 6 months
Healthy, nonpregnant people ages 2 to 49 can be vaccinated with either the flu shot or the nasal vaccine spray. An intradermal influenza vaccination, which was new last season, uses a smaller needle and can be given to ages 18 through 64. Ages younger than 9 who did not receive a flu vaccination during the last flu season should receive a second dose four or more weeks after their first vaccination.
Infection with the flu virus can cause fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches. Flu is a very contagious disease caused by the flu virus, which spreads from person to person.
Approximately 23,000 deaths from seasonal flu and its complications occur on average each year in the United States, according to recently updated estimates from the CDC. However, actual numbers of deaths vary from year to year. For more information about influenza or the availability of flu vaccine, call the local health department or visit http://healthalerts.ky.gov.
Bolen said this year’s strain of flu appears to be making younger adults and children more sick than older adults, but it’s nothing like the H1N1 virus, the so-called swine flu, which also hit younger people hard several years ago.
“As always,” Bolen said, health officials are encouraging “handwashing and covering your cough.” She also advised individuals who are sick stay away from family gatherings and other large groups while they are actively sick.
“Especially over the holidays, if you are sick and running a fever, you definitely want to avoid family gatherings. I hate to tell people that, but if you aren’t feeling well you definitely want to avoid those so you don’t get other people sick,” Bolen said.
She said the guidelines officials use is to avoid contact with others until at least 24 hours after a fever has broke, or you have last vomited or had diarrhea.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2653.