Our View: Time to ramp up flu prevention

Flu activity in the U.S. is already widespread and health officials are bracing for an uptick in the spread of virus this month, meaning it’s time to kick precautions into high gear.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Kentucky is among the top 10 states experiencing widespread flu activity and instances have been on the rise in the last three weeks.

With the holidays over and students returning to school, health officials anticipate the virus will spread even more rapidly in the coming weeks.

The effects from the flu can range from symptoms like a headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches. Those symptoms can keep you home from work or school for three days or more, and can ultimately be fatal in some cases.

Since the start of the flu season in October, more than 13,600 lab confirmed cases of the flu have been reported in the U.S. In Kentucky, as of the week of Dec. 9-15 (the last week for which data is available), 299 lab confirmed cases had been reported in Kentucky, with two deaths to adults older than 18 years.

According to a report from the Courier Journal, in February 2018, the Kentucky Cabinet For Health and Family Services reported 100 flu-related deaths. During the 2016-2017 flu season, the commonwealth recorded 76 deaths.

So far this season, there have not been any pediatric influenza-related deaths in Kentucky, but the majority of the cases have been in children age 1 to 10.

Four pediatric influenza-related deaths were reported to the CDC during just the last week of reporting, which was Dec. 22, and 11 total have been reported since the start of this flu season.

With the virus spreading quickly, health officials are reminding it is not too late to get the flu vaccine.

Vaccines are the best way to prevent contracting the flu, and are typically available at public health departments, most doctor’s offices and many retail pharmacies.

Just 37 percent of people got the flu shot last year.

The second tenant to fighting the flu is preventing the spread of the virus. This is done through good health and hygiene practices.

Here are some tips to help keep you and your family safe and prevent spreading the virus:

— Wash your hands often with soap and water for 15-20 seconds or use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers.

— Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs often are spread when a person touches an object contaminated with germs and then touches one of those facial areas.

— Get an annual flu shot to help your body develop antibodies to protect against influenza infection.

— Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from contracting your illness.

— Stay home from work, school and errands if possible when you are sick. This will help prevent others from catching your illness.

— Remind children to practice healthy habits. Germs spread easily at school and in child care settings, resulting in high rates of absenteeism among students and staff.

Each year, between 12,000 and 15,000 die in the U.S. from flu-related complications. Additionally, anywhere from 140,000 to 710,000 people area hospitalized with the flu annually, according to the CDC.

Prevention is key in fighting the potentially tragic effects of this virus.