Politics & Government

Deadly flu reaches epidemic level in Kentucky

What is a flu epidemic? Kentucky's health commissioner explains.

Acting Kentucky Department for Public Health Commissioner Dr. Jeffrey D. Howard talks about the state's flu epidemic.
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Acting Kentucky Department for Public Health Commissioner Dr. Jeffrey D. Howard talks about the state's flu epidemic.

A serious, sometimes deadly strain of the flu virus has reached the epidemic level in Kentucky, state health officials reported Wednesday.

“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 Department for Public Health Commissioner Jeffrey D. Howard in a news release.

“A person who will develop influenza illness actually can transmit the virus to other persons beginning one day before their illness begins.”

Howard stressed that the flu virus can affect generally healthy Kentuckians as well as those in higher risk categories.

Kentucky is in its sixth consecutive week of widespread flu activity, which is the highest level of flu activity and indicates increased flu-like activity or flu outbreaks in at least half of the regions in the state, Howard said.

The state has reported 65 influenza-associated deaths this season, of which 78 percent were identified as influenza A. Of the deaths so far, 7 percent have occurred in previously healthy individuals with no reported risk factors for severe illness.

Healthy individuals with influenza will usually miss three to five days of work, school, or other usual activities, and sometimes may miss seven to 10 days. Infection with the flu virus can cause fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches.

“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,” said state Department for Public Health’s epidemiologist Jonathan Ballard.

Ballard said flu vaccination is “the most effective protection against flu.”

“We especially recommend that all healthy Kentuckians aged six months and older be vaccinated,” he said. “The flu season typically runs until late spring so it is not too late to get vaccinated.”

The state said it takes about two weeks following the administration of the vaccine for the recipient to develop protection from the flu. There are ample supplies available throughout the state.

Health officials invite the public to participate in a Facebook Live discussion at 6 p.m. Thursday about the flu on the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kychfs/. Questions can be submitted beforehand to chfs.communications@ky.gov or questions can be posted in the comments section during the event.

Those who develop flu symptoms should seek 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.

“Recently the Centers for Disease Control issued a health advisory recommending antiviral treatment to all hospitalized and high-risk persons with suspected influenza and that benefits of antiviral medications are observed even when treatment is initiated beyond two days of illness onset,” said Ballard.

Influenza virus can also directly infect the heart and can cause severe and potentially fatal acute changes in the heart’s rhythm and function.

People at high risk of complications from flu include children younger than five years (but especially children younger than two years), adults aged 65 years and older, pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum), residents of nursing homes and other longer-term facilities, and persons with chronic illnesses such as asthma and chronic respiratory illnesses, neurological or neurodevelopmental conditions, heart disease, blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease), diabetes, kidney and liver disorders, weakened immune system due to disease like cancer or medications, persons younger than 19 years who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and people with extreme obesity (body mass index of 40 or more).

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics

Stop the spread of flu

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips:

▪ Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

▪ While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.

▪ If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.

▪ Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

▪ 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.