Health Watch

Aug 16, 2012 12:43 PM

Flu Already Showing Up In Eastern Kentucky

Following reports of the first lab-confirmed cases of influenza this season, Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) officials urge Kentuckians to get a vaccination against influenza as soon as vaccine becomes available from their health care provider.

The reported cases are residents of Boyd County, and the seasonal H3N2 type of influenza virus was identified in each case. Protection against that strain is included in this season's influenza vaccine. No cases of the H3N2 variant influenza that contain genetic material from swine influenza have been reported in Kentucky to date.

While the flu season typically begins in October or November, sometimes a low level of flu activity can begin as early as late summer. Despite the early start this year, health officials cannot predict how severe the season will be. Kentuckians are encouraged to get a flu vaccine as soon as their health provider has it in stock, because it takes about two weeks for immunity to develop and offer protection against flu. However, vaccination can be given any time during the flu season.

Local health departments and private health care providers are expected to have adequate supplies of flu vaccine on hand for this year's season, and many providers already have some supplies of vaccine. Additional vaccine shipments should be arriving over the next few weeks. Kentuckians should contact their health care provider or local health department for more information.

"Getting the flu can be debilitating and sometimes life-threatening, so it's extremely important to take simple preventive steps to avoid it," said Steve Davis, M.D., acting commissioner of DPH. "You should also follow the advice your mother gave you to prevent 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're sick."

The best way to protect against the flu is to receive a flu vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends flu vaccine for all individuals more than 6 months of age. People who should especially receive the flu vaccine because they may be at higher risk for complications or negative consequences include:

• Children age 6 months to 19 years;
• Pregnant women;
• People 50 years old or older;
• People of any age with chronic health problems;
• People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
• Health care workers;
•Caregivers of or people who live with a person at high risk for complications from the flu; and
•Out-of-home caregivers of or people who live with children less than 6 months old.

Kentuckians should receive a new flu vaccination each season for optimal protection. Healthy, non-pregnant people age 2-49 years can be vaccinated with either the flu shot or the nasal vaccine spray. Children younger than 9 years old who did not receive a flu vaccination during the last flu season should receive a second dose four or more weeks after their first vaccination.

Infection with the flu virus can cause fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches. Flu is a very contagious disease caused by the flu virus, which spreads from person to person. Approximately 23,000 deaths due to seasonal flu and its complications occur on average each year in the U.S., according to recently updated estimates from the CDC. However, actual numbers of deaths vary from year to year. For more information on influenza or the availability of flu vaccine, please contact your local health department or visit http://healthalerts.ky.gov.

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