The Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) announced today that flu activity in the commonwealth is now considered “widespread,” a designation indicating increased flu-like activity or flu outbreaks in at least half of the regions in a state. Five other states have been given this designation in the Weekly United States Influenza Surveillance Report.
In recent years, the peak of flu season in Kentucky has occurred in February and March, meaning there is enough time to take advantage of public health measures to ward off the onset of flu.
“It is not too late to get your flu shot if you have not had one in the past six months. It is the best preventive measure you can take to keep from contracting this debilitating and sometimes fatal virus,” said Dr. William Hacker, Health and Family Services’ acting undersecretary for health and public health commissioner. “And, by all means, don’t ignore the advice your mother gave you – wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and stay home from work or school if you are feeling ill.”
In the United States each year, approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 people die from the flu.
Unlike the common cold, influenza is a severe viral illness with symptoms that include a high fever, headache, extreme fatigue, cough, runny or stuffy nose and severe muscle aches. Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, also can occur, but are more common in children than adults. Illness can persist for up to two weeks causing loss of income and excessive school absence. Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.
The supply of flu vaccine in local health departments in Kentucky is plentiful and getting vaccinated in January or later is still important because most influenza activity occurs in January or later in most years. Though it varies, flu season can last as late as May.
Two methods of vaccination for flu are available. The “flu shot” is an inactivated vaccine that is given with a needle. The flu shot is approved for use in people 6 months of age and older, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions. The nasal spray flu vaccine, sometimes called “LAIV” for Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine, is approved for use in healthy people 5 to 49 years of age who are not pregnant. Within 10 days of vaccination, you develop protection against the flu.
DPH urges anyone who hasn’t received a flu vaccine, particularly those in the groups at high risk for complications related to the flu, to contact their local health departments about getting a flu shot. Older Kentuckians should also consider getting the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine.
For more information about the flu, visit DPH's Web site at http://chfs.ky.gov/dph/epi/Influenza.htm or CDC’s Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/.