TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

December 17, 2012

The flu: the gift that nobody wants

Cases widespread in state, flu shots recommended this holiday season


The Times-Tribune

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.”

People at high risk of developing flu-related complications

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says most people who get the flu will have mild illness, won’t need medical care or antiviral drugs, and will recover in less than two weeks. But some people are more likely to get flu complications that result in being hospitalized and occasionally result in death. Those complications include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections. The flu can also make chronic health problems worse.

People who fall in that high risk category are:

—Adults 65 years of age and older

—Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old

—Pregnant women

—In addition, American Indians (Native Americans) and Alaskan Natives seem to be at higher risk of flu complications.

This also includes people who have medical conditions, including:

—Asthma

—Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions (like brain disorders, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, stroke, intellectual disability, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injury, or moderate to severe developmental delay.

—Chronic lung disease, such as COPD and cystic fibrosis

—Heart disease (like congenital or congestive heart disease, and coronary artery disease)

—Blood disorders (like sickle cell disease), kidney disorders and liver disorders

—Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (like people with HIV, AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)

Along with getting a flu shot, the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) strongly encourages all adults 65 and over, and other persons in high risk groups to ask their health care provider about the pneumococcal vaccine.

It’s a vaccine that can help prevent a type of pneumonia, which is one of the flu’s most serious and potentially deadly complications.

Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria, and can result in serious pneumonia, meningitis or blood infections. The CDC says pneumococcal disease kills more people in the United States every year than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. Each year nationwide, some 20,000 to 40,000 deaths are attributed to flu and pneumonia, with more than 90 percent of them happening in people age 65 and older.

Kentucky’s DPH Commissioner, Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, said in a news release from Frankfort last Wednesday, “The pneumococcal vaccine is extremely safe, effective, can be taken at any time of year and is currently available in adequate supply.”

For more information about the pneumococcal vaccine, and/or about the flu vaccine, contact your local health department, or go to these websites:

Whitley Co. Health Dept.

528-5613 (Corbin)

549-3380 (Williamsburg)

Knox Co. Health Dept.

546-3486

Laurel Co. Health Dept. 864-5187

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/high_risk

Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH)

www.healthalerts.ky.gov

SOURCES: Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Ky. Department for Public Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.