Illness season arrives early in Clark County

Published 9:04 am Monday, November 7, 2022

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Multiple school districts across central Kentucky canceled classes due to illness last week, including Clark County Public Schools.

Classes were canceled for Friday, and Monday was declared a Non-Traditional Instruction day.

In a communication sent to parents and guardians by Superintendent Dustin Howard, he wrote that the district plans to deep clean the buildings with the hope of resuming in-person learning soon.

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The culprit for the abrupt three-day weekend was not COVID-19 but rather a cocktail of different illnesses, according to Clark County Public Health Director Becky Kissick.

“What we know is that there is definitely a lot of illness within the school district, and we know that based on the open dialogue with the school system,” said Kissick.

While COVID is still circulating in the area, Kissick said that anecdotal evidence from medical providers also points to cases of the flu, stomach bugs, and different respiratory illnesses.

The flu seems to be the most prevalent among the illnesses, even if the number of confirmed cases last week, six, might seem low.

Kissick explained why that is the case.

“What is required by medical providers to public health is a positive confirmatory test – those PCR tests that we have all become very familiar with – those are conducted for the flu as well…Those tests get reported to the health department,” she said. “What we know is that a lot of medical providers in the community and the stage are utilizing rapid antigen tests…Statute does not require the medical provider to report that back to public health, and that is where there is a natural discrepancy.”

Other public health metrics point to the start of a busier-than-usual flu season.

“I was looking back, and at this time from last year, as a state, we were at what is considered a sporadic level, which is the lowest possible level of activity that can be assigned,” Kissick said. “When you compare that to the same week this year, we are at a widespread activity level here in Kentucky which is actually the top level.”

The trends mirror what was reported in the southern hemisphere – an early start to the season with a rapid onset.

Kissick said there are several reasons for the early start to flu and illness season. One is the abandonment of stringent health measures seen in the early days of the pandemic: good hand washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing. Another is a warmer-than-normal fall that increased the number of social gatherings.

And since illnesses such as COVID, RSV, and the flu are closely related, it is hard to tell the difference between them at first glance. That is why it is important to get to the doctor as soon as possible when symptoms appear.

“This is really one of those things where you need to work with a medical provider. Your medical provider is going to go through the screening piece – including testing – to really tell you what you are looking at,” Kissick said.

With the holiday season on the horizon, Kissick said that besides good hand hygiene, the best way to protect against illness is to get a flu vaccine.

“We are happy to accommodate those flu vaccine requests at any time. Just give us a call,” she said.

The Clark County Health Department can be reached via telephone at 859-744-4482.