CORBIN — By Charlotte Underwood / Staff writer
It’s flu season once again and all Tri-County health departments and local health officials are urging everyone to get a shot as soon as possible.
“Flu season has arrived a little early in Kentucky,” Disaster Preparedness Coordinator Rita Miracle said, explaining that there had already been a couple of confirmed cases of flu in Kentucky.
“We usually push vaccinations in October but we have already started our flu vaccinations due to the season’s early arrival,” Miracle said, adding that vaccinations had already started at area schools by school nurses.
“Getting a flu shot is the easiest way to prevent the flu,” said Whitley County Public Health Nurse and Supervisor Tamara Johnson, adding that good hygiene and proper hand washing was also a good way to prevent infection.
Laurel County Public Health Director Mark Hensley said he agreed wholeheartedly.
“Washing your hands is so important, especially during peak flu season in the winter when people are out shopping at the stores and malls,” Hensley said, adding that things like escalators could be a breeding ground for germs.
“We urge people to stay away from large crowds during peak season and don’t go to work sick or send your children to school when they are sick,” Johnson added.
“If you don’t have access to running water, carry hand sanitizer and cover your coughs with your arm, not your hand; this is especially important with children who are in close proximity with one another at school,” Miracle said.
She explained that flu vaccines change every year, because the flu mutates and changes.
“Last year’s flu virus is this year’s vaccine in a sense,” Miracle said.
Officials with the Kentucky Department for Public Health also encourage flu shots as the best preventative from getting sick.
“Getting the flu can be debilitating and sometimes life-threatening, so it’s extremely important to take simple preventative steps to avoid it,” said Steve Davis, M.D., acting commissioner of the department of health.
Although state officials said forecasting the severity of flu season is difficult, they do not expect any shortages on vaccinations at this point, according to Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Public Information Officer Beth Fisher.
For most people, the flu is unpleasant, but not life threatening. The flu results in around 200,000 hospitalizations annually, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Lethality varies, but the United States generally sees at least 3,000 deaths a year from influenza.
“You should follow the advice of your mother gave you to prevent flu and other illnesses that tend to circulate this time of year — wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and stay home when you are sick,” Davis said.
“People do die from flu complications; It is very important for people to get immunized, especially if they have compromised health,” Miracle said.
This year’s flu vaccine, available again in both injectable and nasal mist form, contains protection against both the seasonal and H1N1 flu, according to state officials.
Some providers will also have a high-dose vaccine available for seniors.
It isn’t necessary to wait a full year between flu shots and state officials said shots administered now will continue to provide protection throughout the flu season. After receiving a shot, it takes 10 to 14 days for the body to produce antibodies that provide protection from the flu, officials said.
Health officials urge everyone at least 6 months old get vaccinated.