Friday, February 2, 2018

Flu has killed 100 Kentuckians, state health department says

The state Department for Public Health has identified 100 deaths from the influenza epidemic in Kentucky, including at least four children, it announced Friday. "This season’s H3N2 strain of the flu virus can be extremely serious, even deadly, not just for those in higher risk categories but to generally healthy Kentuckians as well," the department said in a news release.

The death rate is well ahead of last year's total of 76, with at least three months left in the current flu season.

“We want to remind people to avoid contact with others if you have influenza or an influenza-like illness,” acting Health Commissioner Dr. Jeffrey D. Howard said in the release. "If you are sick, seek care from your healthcare provider early. Lastly, take appropriate measures to protect yourself such as washing your hands with soap and water.”

Dr. Jonathan Ballard, the state epidemiologist, said, “Pneumonia, bacterial bloodstream infections, and sepsis are examples of serious influenza-related complications that may require hospitalization and sometimes result in death of healthy people with no known risk factors for serious illness.”

Ballard said “Flu vaccination is the most effective protection against flu. We especially recommend that all healthy Kentuckians aged six months and older be vaccinated. The flu season typically runs until late spring so it is not too late to get vaccinated.”

The release said vaccinations are available at health departments, pharmacies, and medical providers, and noted that many health-insurance plans cover the cost with no copayment, but cautioned, "It takes about two weeks following the administration of the vaccine for the recipient to develop protection from the flu. . . . The flu can be highly contagious and cause potentially life-threatening disease. Infection with the flu virus can cause fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches. Individuals who develop flu symptoms should seek medical advice to determine if they should be treated with an antiviral drug, which could shorten the course of the illness or reduce its severity."

Persons at high risk from the flu include children younger than 5 (but especially children younger than 2), adults 65 and older, pregnant women (and women up to two weeks after birth), residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and persons with chronic illnesses (such as respiratory illnesses, neurological or neuro-developmental conditions, heart disease, blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease), diabetes, kidney and liver disorders, weakened immune system due to disease like cancer or medications, persons younger than 19 years who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and people with extreme obesity (body mass index of 40 or more).

Kentucky reports weekly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national flu surveillance system. The report is online at and is updated each Friday before noon.

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