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Flu widespread in Ky.; still time to get vaccine

Flu levels across the state are considered widespread, and Jessamine County has not been immune to the spread of the virus.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.

Symptoms include fever or chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuff nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

Flu in Jessamine County

There have been 10 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu in Jessamine County so far during the 2019-20 flu season, which began in late September.

During the last week of December, there were six laboratory-confirmed cases in the county, according to Ronnie Ghosh, senior regional epidemiologist at the Jessamine County Health Department.

While there are less than a dozen laboratory-confirmed cases, that does not paint a full picture of how the flu has impacted the community, Ghosh said.

There have been many more cases of the virus diagnosed using rapid testing, which does not have to be reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said.

“Not everyone’s sample goes to a molecular test,” she said. “The most common method is rapid testing.”

By the numbers 

During the 2018-19 season, cases were confirmed through April, Ghosh said, with a peak in cases in the later part of January and February.

Jessamine is seeing less flu activity than Fayette County, which has 141 lab-confirmed cases. Cases in other surrounding counties include: 10 in Woodford, 39 in Mercer, 34 in Garrard and 24 in Madison County.

“We are still waiting for the big surge to happen this year,” Ghosh said.

Kentucky is one of the states with the highest levels of flu activity in the U.S.

In the last week of December, more than 2,000 new cases of the flu were reported in Kentucky, according to the latest Kentucky Department for Public Health’s weekly influenza surveillance report released Jan. 3.

Most of Kentucky’s cases have been confirmed in children ages 1 to 10.

So far, there have been 27 influenza-associated pediatric deaths during the 2019-20 season in the U.S. Five of those were reported in the last week of December, and one of those cases was reported in Kentucky.

Ghosh said in Kentucky, the predominant strain of the virus is Type A with 3,690 cases. There have been about 2,298 cases of Type B.

Preventing the flu

The best way to prevent the spread of the illness is through vaccinations and hand-washing, Ghosh said, and there is still plenty of time to receive the vaccine.

She said there is still a healthy supply of the vaccine at the health department, pharmacies, physicians offices and other clinics in the county.

“I haven’t heard of any shortages of the vaccine at this point in the season,” she said.

According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, everyone 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated against the flu.

“While vaccination against the flu is recommended for everyone, it is especially important for those at high risk for serious flu-related complications or those who live with or care for people at high risk,” the KCHFS warns.

Those high-risk populations include children younger than 5, but especially those younger than 2; pregnant women, people 65 and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, people who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including health care workers, household contacts of persons at high-risk for complications from flu; and household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children younger than 6 months (these children are too young to be vaccinated).

While it is not too late to get the vaccine, it is best to be vaccinated annually in the fall, before the peak of the flu season.

In addition to the vaccine, good hygiene practices are another way to prevent the spread of the illness, Ghosh said.

The Kentucky Department of Public Health offers these tips:

  Wash your hands often with soap and water for 15 to 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 his or her eyes, nose or mouth.

— 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 because germs spread easily at school and in child care settings, resulting in high rates of absenteeism among students and staff.

For more about the flu, visit CDC.gov/flu.

About Whitney Leggett

Whitney Leggett is managing editor of The Winchester Sun and Winchester Living magazine. To contact her, email whitney.leggett@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0049.

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