Sunday, March 3, 2024

Flu shots limit infection rates, which are still elevated in Kentucky

State health department graphs, adapted by Kentucky Health News
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The Kentucky Department for Public Health still considers hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses high and says flu activity remains elevated. 

Health officials say the best way to protect yourself from these viruses is to stay up to date with your vaccines. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months old and older get the annual flu vaccine and updated Covid-19 vaccines, especially children younger than 5 or anyone at high risk for complications.

Vaccines for respiratory syncitial virus are recommended for some infants and young children, pregnant women and adults 60 and older. At some places and times, there has been a shortage of these vaccines. 

This year's "flu vaccines have worked, substantially reducing the risk of flu-related medical visits and hospitalizations across all age groups, with some estimates higher than have been previously observed, even during well-matched seasons," said a CDC report released on Feb. 29.

"Specifically, flu vaccination has reduced the risk of flu medical visits by about two-thirds and flu-related hospitalization by about half for vaccinated children and flu medical visits by half and hospitalization by about 40% for vaccinated adults."

Even though flu season usually peaks around January, it lasts until May. Health experts say that if there is any flu activity occurring, it's not too late to get vaccinated.

What the numbers say

Emergency-department visits for respiratory illness in Kentucky have stayed about the same for the last two weeks, with 3,607 visits reported in the week ended Feb. 24.

Hospitalizations for respiratory disease in that week stayed about the same as the week prior, with 491 530 hospitalizations reported in the week ended Feb. 24. 

Kentucky had 20 counties with Covid-19 hospitalizations between 10 and 19.9 hospitalizations per 100,000 people, a rate that the  CDC considers "medium." 

Those counties are Adair, Green, Russell, Taylor, Clinton, Cumberland, Lewis, Elliott, Menifee, Morgan, Rowan, Barren, Hart, Metcalfe, Monroe, Bath, Montgomery, Floyd, Johnson and Magoffin. 

Overall, there was little change in the three respiratory viruses tracked by the state health department: Covid-19, influenza and RSV, with flu continuing to drive ED visits and hospital admissions. 

The state reported 3,857 laboratory confirmed cases of the flu in the week ended Feb. 24 and 2,246 laboratory confirmed cases of Covid-19. This reflected a slight drop in flu cases and a nearly 9% drop in Covid cases.

Among children, ED visits for respiratory disease increased 12% in children four and younger, to 671, compared to the prior week, and hospitalizations for children 5 to 17 increased 50%, to 18. The increase in ED visits for younger children was driven by the flu, and hospitalizations for the older children were driven by an increase in  both flu and Covid-19.

Since the respiratory-illness season began the first week in October, 384 Kentuckians have died from Covid-19, and 51 from flu, according to the health department. One Covid-19 victim and one flu victim have been children. 

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