Flu has hit Lexington hard this winter.
As of Monday morning, 278 flu cases were confirmed, according to Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.
“That’s more than double what it was last year,” Hall said. “And we still have a few months left of flu season.”
Last year, there were 130 confirmed flu cases in Lexington. Flu season generally starts in November and continues until May, Hall said.
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Why the rapid rise in flu cases?
It’s too early to tell, Hall said, but the department is encouraging adults and kids to continue to get flu shots.
“When you are sick, it’s important to stay home. We recommend people don’t return to work or school until they have been fever-free for 24 hours,” Hall said. “Get your flu shot. And wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.”
Hall cautioned that the 278 are only the confirmed cases — those people who went to a doctor and have been tested. Many adults don’t go to the doctor when they are sick. The number of people sick from the flu is probably much higher than 278, Hall said.
There have been four confirmed flu-related deaths in Fayette County this year, Hall said. Most of those deaths were people who were older and had pre-existing conditions. The old and the very young are especially at risk, he said.
“That’s why we encourage people to get flu shots,” Hall said. “You don’t want to infect your grandparents or your aunts or uncles or children or nieces or nephews.”
Influenza symptoms can range from mild to severe. They almost always include a fever, cough and sore throat. And, in certain people — primarily the very young and older adults — they can be life-threatening.
Dr. Sally Alrabaa, a University of South Florida infectious disease specialist at Tampa General Hospital, said that of the two most common types of influenza circulating — viruses A and B — type A is particularly aggressive this season and is most likely to cause serious complications in infants and toddlers, older adults, and those with chronic health conditions, or who are on medicine that weakens the immune system.
The flu usually comes on suddenly. It’s described as feeling as if you’ve been hit by a bus. Most people recover in a week or two, but fatigue from the illness can persist for another week.
Should you see a doctor if you suspect the flu? It’s probably worth at least a phone call to your doctor, if not an office visit. Doctors can prescribe a medication known as Tamiflu or its generic equivalent, oseltamivir phosphate, which might make you better sooner.
During the flu season in 2015-16, 25 million Americans got the illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 310,000 had to be hospitalized, and more than 12,000 people died. Most of the deaths and hospitalizations involved people 65 and older.
The CDC estimates that the flu vaccine prevented more than 5 million cases of flu last season, 71,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Still, most people eligible for the vaccine don’t get it. According to the CDC, working-age adults between 18 and 64 are the least likely to get a flu shot.
Current guidelines recommend the flu vaccine for everyone age 6 months and older. The flu season generally runs from October to March, peaks between December and February and can hang around well into May. Because of the long flu season, if you haven’t been vaccinated yet, it still makes sense to get the vaccine.
And bear in mind that the vaccine isn’t 100 percent protective.
The Tampa Bay Times contributed to this report.