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The flu activity level in Kentucky has increased from regional to widespread and a Kenton County man became the first death from flu complications this year.
However, Northern Kentucky Health Department officials said the flu is not on pace to match last year’s record-setting number of flu cases.
Last year, a total of 3,492 cases of flu, including eight deaths, were reported, the highest ever in northern Kentucky.
Grant County had 509 cases of flu reported last season.
During the 2011-12 season, there were only 284 individuals who tested positive for flu in northern Kentucky.
Through Jan. 4, there have been 331 cases, including 12 in Grant County, of flu reported in northern Kentucky.
“So far, flu activity in Northern Kentucky has been typical—both in the timing and the number of cases,” said Emily Gresham Wherle, public information administrator for the health department. “The last two flu seasons were unusual — 2012-2013 was unusually high, and 2011-2012 was unusually low.”
A middle-aged Kenton County man died recently from complications of the flu, the first death reported to the Northern Kentucky Health Department this flu season.
The man had a history of chronic health problems that may have made him more susceptible to flu.
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a total of six children have died from flu through Dec. 28..
Though it doesn’t track adult flu deaths nationwide, the CDC estimated 6.5 percent of all adult deaths were attributable to flu or pneumonia (a common complication of flu) for the week ending Dec. 28.
Approximately 23,000 deaths due to seasonal flu and its complications occur on average each year in the U.S., according to recently updated estimates from the CDC.
Statewide, Kentucky is reporting widespread flu activity, meaning that outbreaks of influenza or increases in influenza-like cases and recent laboratory-confirmed influenza in at least half the regions of the state with recent laboratory evidence of influenza in the state.
Grant County and Williamstown Independent schools have had several days off because of inclement weather, but there were few problems during the first few days back from Christmas break.
However, school officials said they have yet to experience an outbreak of the flu like last year.
“We have a few confirmed cases of the flu, but not excessive at this point,” said Williamstown Elementary Principal David Poer, who serves as the district’s director of pupil personnel. “We ended the first semester with a district attendance rate of 96.8 percent. Our attendance for the first two days back is right on average at 96.83 percent.”
Nearly all of the schools in the Grant County district had attendance around 95 percent or above, said Jim Lacey, director of pupil personnel.
“Our district wide attendance would have to drop to 88 percent before school would be cancelled due to illness,” Lacy said. “Based upon this limited data set (two days), the flu is not an issue for us yet. I hope it doesn’t become one.”
The flu season can begin as early as October, which is when Kentucky reported its first cases this year, and last through May.
Infection with the flu virus can cause fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches.
Flu is a very contagious disease caused by the flu virus, which spreads from person to person.
“When it’s cold, people tend to stay inside, which makes it easier for germs to spread,” Wherle said. “However, the extreme cold and closure of schools earlier this week kept people in their own houses--a measure that might’ve slowed the spread of flu slightly.
January is still a good time to get vaccinated against the flu because peak activity often comes in the early months of the year.
Vaccination can be given any time during the flu season, and there is a plentiful vaccine supply this season.
It takes approximately two weeks for vaccine to become fully effective.
The 2009 H1N1 strain of flu has been more prevalent this year.
This particular strain tends to affect young and middle-aged adults disproportionately when compared to other strains.
If H1N1 continues to circulate, then health department officials expect to see more people in these age groups getting severe respiratory illnesses this year. H1N1 is included in all flu vaccines.
“If you have flu symptoms, we recommend that you contact your health care provider, so he/she can decide what treatment is best for you, based on your symptoms and health history,” Wherle said. “We do still have flu vaccine available at the Grant County Health Center. The cost is $20, but no one is turned away if they can’t pay, and kids may be eligible for free vaccine through a federal program.”
For more information on influenza or the availability of flu vaccine, contact your local health department or provider or visit www.nkyhealth.org/Seasonal-Flu.aspx.
To prevent the spread of the flu, the CDC recommends that individuals:
• Get a flu vaccine if you haven’t done so already. Vaccinations are available by appointment at the Health Department’s county health centers, as well as most medical offices and pharmacies. Adults over age 65 are also encouraged to get a pneumonia vaccination.
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.