Flu widespread in Kentucky, vaccines highly recommended

Published 9:56 am Friday, January 13, 2017

Kentucky health officials have raised the flu activity level in the state from regional to widespread, and local officials are urging anyone who hasn’t been immunized to get the vaccine. 
The Cabinet for Health and Family Services issued a statement Thursday about the increased activity. According to the state, widespread is the highest level of flu activity and means there has been increased activity or outbreaks in at least half of the regions in the state.
Clark County Health Department Public Health Director Scott Lockard said influenza is now active across the state.
“Right now, we’re really in peak flu season time,” Lockard said. “Typically, we see a peak in late December through January and February, sometimes even in early March.” 
He suggests people get the vaccine around September or October, but said many are getting the shots even earlier.
“In the last few years, entities have started giving the vaccine earlier and earlier,” he said. “That’s mostly about competition to be the first one to get the shot on the market.”
Lockard said the timing of the flu shot is not as important, as long you get the vaccine.
“There’s not proof of waining immunity,” he said. “There’s nothing we’ve seen that shows the immunity gets weaker if you get the shot early. We want people to get it, when they get it.
“We also want people to realize it’s not too late to get the vaccine right now. The only time it’s too late is once you’ve already got the flu.”
Lockard said there have only been two lab-confirmed cases of the flu in Clark County, both reported in January.
“As we see an uptick in cases around the state, there is still time to get the shot,” he said. “It typically takes about one to two weeks for immunity to build up and there are plenty of places to get the vaccine quickly.”
Lockard said most pharmacies now offer the vaccine, along with the health department, primary care providers and the Clark Clinic.
Unlike previous years, the vaccine is only available this year as a shot, Lockard said.
“The vaccine is the only method this year, because it’s been shown that the nasal mist is not effective,” he said.
Lockard and Hiram Polk, public health commissioner, recommended especially high-rish populations to have the vaccine. Those include children younger than five and babies, adults 50 or older, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes or assisted living facilities, caregivers, health care workers and those with chronic health problems of any age.
State officials report there is an adequate supply of the vaccine available this season, and Lockard said the strains targeted this year were accurate.
“When they formulate the vaccine in advance, they try to make their best guess at what strains will be active the next season,” he said. “A few years ago there was a strain not included in the vaccine that became pretty active. This year, the vaccine covers four strains and it seems to be very effective.”
Typical flu symptoms include fever, headache, cough, soar throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches. The virus is highly contagious and can be deadly, Lockard said.
“People don’t realize that in the U.S. we average about 30,000 to 36,000 deaths from the flu every year,” he said. “The flu can kill. There have already been at least two deaths in Fayette County this year contributed to the flu.”
Besides the vaccine, Lockard said the best guard against the spread of the virus is practicing good hygiene and social isolation.
“When we’re sick, many people think they should be tough and push through and go to work,” he said. “We have to change that mindset. When you’re sick, stay home, seek medical treatment and don’t return to work or school until your fever is gone and your symptoms have wained so you don’t spread it to others.”
The flu virus is contagious at least one day before symptoms develop and up to seven days after becoming sick, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lockard said basic habits like frequent and thorough hand washing, using hand sanitizer often, using disposable tissues or wipes to clean away mucus from the nose or saliva from coughing and covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough can go a long way.
Flu activity level is tracked weekly as part of the CDC national flu surveillance system.
Good practices for flu prevention
— Anyone older than 6 months should have a flu vaccine annually.
— Avoid close contact with sick people. When you are sick, keep your distance from others.
— Stay home when you are sick to prevent spreading the virus.
— Cover your mouth and nose with tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
— Wash hands with soap and hot water for about 30 second and dry thoroughly. Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer between washes.
— Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, as germs are often spread by touching contaminated objects and then rubbing these parts of your body.
— Clean and disinfect your home, office and school often, especially when someone has been sick.
Information from cdc.gov.

About Whitney Leggett

Whitney Leggett is managing editor of The Winchester Sun and Winchester Living magazine. To contact her, email whitney.leggett@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0049.

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