FRANKFORT, Ky. (WYMT) – Officials within the Kentucky Department of Public Health are reporting the first four flu-related deaths of this year's flu season.
Flu activity has been raised to "widespread", which is the highest level of flu activity and indicates an increase in the number of flu outbreaks or cases in at least half of the Commonwealth's regions.
In addition to four deaths, the DPH reports that there have been 1,622 laboratory-confirmed flu cases across Kentucky since August 4th.
“We extend our condolences to the families who have suffered losses during this flu season,” said Dr. Angela Dearinger, Commissioner of DPH. “These personal losses are a reminder for all of us that flu can be a serious illness, for young and old alike, and we strongly encourage people to protect themselves by getting a flu vaccination. This is especially important for children and adults at high risk for complications related to the flu. Stay at home if you have the flu or flu-like symptoms and to avoid contact with others.”
Infection can cause an array of symptoms including fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches.
Additionally, the flu is very contagious. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective, so the DPH urges people to get vaccinated as soon as possible if they have not already.
The flu vaccine has been modified to better protect against types of flu that were more common last season. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and manufacturers of the vaccine report that there are no shortages.
Vaccination can be given any time during the flu season, but providers are encouraged to administer the vaccine as soon as possible. Medicaid, Medicare and most private health insurance providers cover flu vaccination as a preventive service.
The flu vaccine is especially important in light of the longest flu season the nation experienced last year. The CDC reports that more than 647,000 flu-related hospitalizations occurred and more than 61,000 people died as a result of the flu. In Kentucky, there were 196 flu-related deaths, two of which were children.
"Getting the flu can be debilitating and sometimes life-threatening," added Dearinger. “Vaccination is the best tool we have to prevent the flu. It is also extremely important to take simple preventive steps to avoid the flu and other illnesses that tend to circulate at this time of year – wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and stay home when you are sick.”
Finally, the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends flu vaccine for all individuals six months of age and older. People who are strongly encouraged to receive the flu vaccine because they may be at higher risk for complications or negative consequences include:
- Children aged six months through 59 months (less than 5 years)
- Women who are or will be pregnant during the influenza season
- Persons 50 years of age or older
- Persons with extreme obesity (Body Mass Index of 40 or greater)
- Persons aged six months and older with chronic health problems
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- Household contacts (including children) and caregivers of children aged ≤59 months (i.e., aged - Household contacts and caregivers or people who live with a person at high-risk for complications from the flu - Health care workers, including physicians, nurses, and other workers in inpatient and outpatient care settings, medical emergency-response workers (e.g., paramedics and emergency medical technicians), employees of nursing home and long-term care facilities who have contact with patients or residents, and students in these professions who will have contact with patients.
- Household contacts and caregivers or people who live with a person at high-risk for complications from the flu
- Health care workers, including physicians, nurses, and other workers in inpatient and outpatient care settings, medical emergency-response workers (e.g., paramedics and emergency medical technicians), employees of nursing home and long-term care facilities who have contact with patients or residents, and students in these professions who will have contact with patients.