The state Department for Public Health says this season’s influenza activity is now considered an epidemic.
Health officials are warning that this season’s strain of the flu virus can be extremely serious, even deadly — and not just for those in high-risk categories. In general, children, the elderly, extremely obese people, and those with chronic health conditions or weak immune systems are considered at higher risk of getting the flu.
The health department said in a news release that the most common flu type identified in Kentucky and in 78 percent of the 65 flu-associated deaths this season is influenza A; and that of the deaths so far, 7 percent have occurred in previously healthy individuals with no reported risk factors for severe illness.
“Pneumonia, bacterial bloodstream infections, and sepsis are examples of serious influenza-related complications that may require hospitalization and sometimes result in death of healthy people with no known risk factors for serious illness,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Jonathan Ballard said in the release.
This is the sixth consecutive week of widespread flu activity, which is the highest level of flu activity given.
“Widespread influenza activity means that Kentuckians are likely to encounter one or more persons shedding influenza virus at work, at school, while shopping, while traveling, at athletic or entertainment events, and in places of worship,” said acting Health Commissioner Dr. Jeffrey D. Howard. “A person who will develop influenza illness actually can transmit the virus to other persons beginning one day before their illness begins.”
He added, ““Flu vaccination is the most effective protection against flu. We especially recommend that all healthy Kentuckians aged six months and older be vaccinated. The flu season typically runs until late spring so it is not too late to get vaccinated.” It takes about two weeks following the administration of the flu vaccine for the recipient to develop protection from the flu.
Symptoms of the highly contagious flu virus are fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches. Anyone with flu symptoms should seek immediate medical advice to determine if they should be treated with an antiviral drug, which could shorten the course of the illness or reduce its severity.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips to stop flu germs:
• Avoid close contact with sick people.
• While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
• If you have flu-like symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without the use of a fever-reducing medication), except to get medical care or for other necessities.
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze — and throw the used tissue away.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
• Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.