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December 17, 2012

The flu: the gift that nobody wants

Cases widespread in state, flu shots recommended this holiday season

CORBIN — By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer

At this time of making a list and checking it twice, health professionals are urging people in the Tri County region to put a flu shot on at the top of that list.

The activity level for the flu, or influenza, went up from “regional” to “widespread” last Wednesday and continues to be so as of today (Monday).

That was after the state Department of Public Health (DPH) reported earlier last week about the increase to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. As part of their national flu surveillance system, the CDC tracks the state activity levels each week to watch for increases in flu activity.

“That means there’s an early onset of the flu to be widespread. It means it’s been detected throughout half the regions in the state. It’s the highest level of flu activity,” said Laurel County Public Health Director Mark Hensley.

During an interview last Thursday at the Laurel County Health Department last Thursday, Hensley pointed out the rise in flu activity has already come home towards the holidays.

“We’ve had 24 cases of the flu reported at Saint Joseph London hospital as of this week. We’ve had no confirmed cases here. Of course, we don’t treat the flu, we just vaccinate against it,” he said.

Flu vaccines can be given anytime during the season, which starts as early as October and lasts through May. Usually the peak of the flu season is from January through March — the month when winter weather’s usually at its worst. It takes about two weeks for the immunity to develop and offer protection against the flu. And that’s why Hensley and other public health officials are recommending a flu shot during this holiday season, when families gather together for Christmas and New Year’s Day.

“We continue to get the word out to get vaccinated for the flu, either here at the health department, or from their primary health care provider, or at those pharmacies providing flu shots,” he stated.

According to the Kentucky DPH, there is a plentiful supply of flu vaccine.

A flu shot is recommended for all persons six months of age and older.

Some persons may be at a higher risk for complications or negative consequences as a result of the flu. As a result, those especially encouraged to get a flu shot include children six months to 19 years of age; persons 50 years of age and older; pregnant women; people with chronic health problems; health care workers; those who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; caregivers of, or people who live with a person at a high risk for flu complications; and out-of-home caregivers of, or people who live with children less than six months old.

While getting a flu shot is the best way to keep people immune this season, there are other things you can do to prevent the spread of the flu. Hensley pointed out it’s what you do to keep your hands clean, when you sneeze or cough, and what you do when you feel sick.

“We encourage everybody to wash their hands, frequently. We try to encourage everyone also to cough or sneeze with a tissue to cover their mouth and nose, and throw the tissue into a waste basket when they’re done. But if they don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into their elbows, not your hands. And if you haven’t been vaccinated and have flu-like symptoms, stay at home.”

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