Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) officials reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week that the influenza (flu) activity level in the state has increased from regional to widespread. Widespread activity is the highest level of flu activity, which indicates increased flu-like activity or flu outbreaks in at least half of the regions in the state. The activity levels for states are tracked weekly as part of the CDC’s national flu surveillance system.
“With current widespread flu activity being reported in Kentucky and across much of the nation, now is a good time to protect yourself and your family by getting vaccinated for flu,” said Stephanie Mayfield, M.D., commissioner of DPH. “We are strongly urging anyone who hasn’t received a flu vaccine, particularly those at high risk for complications related to the flu, to check with their health care provider, local health department or pharmacy about vaccine availability.”
The flu season can begin as early as October, which is when Kentucky reported its first cases this year, and last through May. January is still a good time to get vaccinated against the flu because peak activity often comes in the early months of the year. Vaccination can be given any time during the flu season, and there is a plentiful vaccine supply this season. Since it takes approximately two weeks for vaccine to become fully effective, Kentuckians should not delay vaccination, Dr. Mayfield said.
The best way to protect against the flu is to receive a flu vaccination. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends flu vaccine for all individuals 6 months of age and older. People who are especially encouraged to receive the flu vaccine, because they may be at higher risk for complications or negative consequences, include:
• Children age 6 months to 19 years;
• Pregnant women;
• Young and middle-aged adults for the 2013-2014 influenza season;
• People 50 years old or older;
• People of any age with chronic health problems;
• People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
• Health care workers;
• Caregivers of or people who live with a person at high risk for complications from the flu; and
• Out-of-home caregivers of, or people who live with, children less than 6 months old.
Kentuckians should receive a new flu vaccination each season for optimal protection. Influenza strains currently circulating most widely in Kentucky appear to be covered by this season’s vaccine, according to officials.
During the current flu season, CDC has received a number of reports of severe respiratory illness among young and middle-aged adults infected with the influenza A (H1N1) pandemic strain, which first emerged in 2009. Hospitalizations and some fatalities have been reported. During the H1N1 pandemic, children and young adults tended to experience more serious illness, compared to older adults, although severe illness was seen in all age groups.
“In this flu season so far, H1N1 has continued to circulate and there have been reports nationally of severe illness in young and middle-aged adults,” said Dr. Mayfield. “We strongly recommend vaccination of children, teenager and young to middle-aged adults, even if they are healthy, to prevent the spread of and complications from the flu this year. All forms of flu vaccine available in Kentucky this year provide protection against the pandemic H1N1 influenza virus.”
Healthy, non-pregnant people age 2-49 years can be vaccinated with either the flu shot or the nasal vaccine spray. An intradermal influenza vaccination uses a smaller needle and can be given to adults 18 through 64 years of age. Children younger than 9 years old who did not receive a flu vaccination during the last flu season should receive a second dose four or more weeks after their first vaccination.
Infection with the flu virus can cause fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches. Flu is a very contagious disease caused by the flu virus, which spreads from person to person.
Approximately 23,000 deaths due to seasonal flu and its complications occur on average each year in the U.S., according to recently updated estimates from the CDC. However, actual numbers of deaths vary from year to year.
For more information on influenza or the availability of flu vaccine, please contact your local health department or visit http://healthalerts.ky.gov.
In addition to flu vaccine, DPH strongly encourages all adults 65 or older and others in high risk groups to ask their health care provider about the pneumococcal vaccine. This vaccine can help prevent a type of pneumonia, one of the flu’s most serious and potentially deadly complications.
“The pneumococcal vaccine is extremely safe, effective, can be taken at any time of year and is currently available in an adequate supply,” Dr. Mayfield said.
Caused by bacteria, pneumococcal disease can result in serious pneumonia, meningitis or blood infections. According to the CDC, pneumococcal disease kills more people in the U.S. each year than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. Between 20,000 and 40,000 deaths are attributed to flu and pneumonia nationally each year, with more than 90 percent of those deaths occurring in people age 65 and older.