FRANKFORT, Ky. (Oct. 19, 2015) – Kentucky’s flu season typically begins in October or November, and the state Department for Public Health is reporting the first two laboratory-confirmed influenza cases of the season this week. The cases are from Jefferson and Kenton counties.
DPH officials report weekly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of statewide flu surveillance efforts. Kentucky’s flu activity is currently classified as “sporadic,” the lowest level indicating flu activity.
Kentuckians are encouraged to get a flu vaccine as soon as their health provider has vaccine in stock, because it takes about two weeks for immunity to develop and offer protection against the flu. Vaccination can be given any time during the flu season.
Adequate supplies of flu vaccine are expected to be available for this year’s season. However, it is advisable for Kentuckians to check with their provider’s office, local health department or pharmacy first, to verify that they have vaccine on hand before seeking vaccination.
“Getting the flu can be debilitating and sometimes life-threatening, and vaccination is the best tool we have to prevent illness. It’s also extremely important to take simple preventive steps to avoid it,” said Stephanie Mayfield, M.D., commissioner of DPH. “You should also follow the advice your parents gave you to prevent flu and other illnesses that tend to circulate at this time of year – wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and stay home when you’re sick.”
The best way to protect against the flu is to receive a flu vaccination. The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends flu vaccine for all individuals 6 months of age and older. People who are strongly encouraged to receive the flu vaccine because they may be at higher risk for complications or negative consequences include:
• Children age 6 months through 4 years;
• Pregnant women;
• People 50 years old or older;
• People aged 6 months and older with chronic health problems;
• People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
• Health care workers, household contacts and caregivers or people who live with a person at high risk for complications from the flu; and
• Out-of-home caregivers of children less than 6 months old.
Kentuckians should receive a new flu vaccination each season for optimal protection. Healthy, non-pregnant people aged 2 through 49 years can be vaccinated with either the flu shot or the nasal vaccine spray. Children aged 6 months through 8 years who have never received a previous seasonal flu vaccination or have only received one flu vaccination in the past should receive a second dose four or more weeks after their first vaccination. Health professionals can help determine if a child will need two vaccinations against flu this season, in order to provide the best protection.
Some high-dose flu vaccine will again be available as an option for persons aged 65 years and older. A higher dose of antigen in the vaccine is designed to create a stronger immune response and provide better protection against the flu. However, the CDC has not expressed a preference for high-dose vaccine, so Kentuckians aged 65 and older are urged to receive the regular dose vaccine if the high dose vaccine is unavailable.
In addition to flu vaccine, DPH strongly encourages all adults 65 years and older and others in high-risk groups to ask their health care provider about the pneumococcal vaccines. These vaccines can help prevent a type of pneumonia, one of the flu’s most serious and potentially deadly complications. The CDC recommends that adults aged 65 years and older receive the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13, Prevnar-13) in addition to the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23, Pneumovax-23) spaced at least one year apart. Getting both vaccines offers the best protection against pneumococcal disease. Between 3,000 and 49,000 influenza-associated deaths occur nationally each year, with more than 90 percent of those deaths occurring in people aged 65 years and older.
Individuals with compromised immunity, those with sickle cell disease, without a spleen, with cochlear implants or cerebrospinal fluid leaks should also receive a series of the two pneumococcal vaccines. People 19 years old through 64 years old who smoke cigarettes or have asthma should also get the pneumococcal vaccine. People with chronic heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes and chronic liver disease should also ask their medical providers about pneumococcal vaccine. For children, routine vaccination for pneumococcal disease is recommended beginning at 2 months of age.
Infection with the flu virus can cause fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches. Flu can be very contagious. For more information on influenza or the availability of flu vaccine, please contact your local health department or visit http://healthalerts.ky.gov.