There are high levels of flu in Kentucky for the fifth straight week, and there have been 26 deaths so far this flu season, said State Epidemiologist Dr. Kraig Humbaugh during a news conference Thursday. Older people are at the highest risk of dying or being hospitalized with flu or flu-related illness, he added, noting that 19 of the deaths were people older than 65, eight of those were older than 90.
There have been 64 outbreaks in long-term care facilities which means a facility has one or more cases of the flu. State health officials are contacting long-term care facilities and hospitals and offering advice on how to control any potential outbreaks, he said, and people who are sick with the flu should refrain from visiting long-term care facilities.
In Lexington, the number of flu cases prompted UK HealthCare recently to limit visitation at Chandler Hospital, Kentucky Children's Hospital and Eastern State Hospital. In addition to older people, at-risk groups include young children, people with chronic illness and pregnant women.
Last year about 50 Kentuckians died during the flu season which runs through the end of March, Humbaugh said.
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This year's flu season has not reached the pandemic level of the flu season of 2010, he said.
As always, the best defense against getting the flu is getting a flu vaccine, Humbaugh said.
Kentucky generally reaches widespread levels of the flu by this point in the flu season, but this year is unusual because the flu hit high levels so early and consistently, said Humbaugh
Antiviral medications such as Tamiflu can help ease symptoms, but these drugs can be obtained by prescription only and must be taken soon after symptoms develop.
Being careful not to catch the disease or spread it is best.
"The old advice your mother gave you still applies," said Humbaugh, advising to avoid large crowds, wash your hands frequently and cough into your elbow.
The Lexington Fayette-County Health Department is reporting 104 cases of flu so far this year which compares to eight cases at this time last year, according to department spokesman Kevin Hall.
Hall said both prominent strains of the flu have been seen in Fayette County. The vaccine is about 40 percent effective on one strain and 80 percent effective on the other, he said.
Hall, like Humbaugh, urged people to get vaccinated and practice good health habits like washing your hands for 30 to 40 seconds with soap and warm water and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze. If adults are sick, they should stay home from work. If a child is sick, they should be kept home from school to limit spreading the disease.