With the holiday season just ahead, it’s more important than ever to get this year’s flu shot, state health department says

Mayo Clinic photo

The state Department for Public Health is pushing Kentuckians to get their flu shots, since the holiday season is approaching.

“People will be traveling and families will gather together, increasing the potential for exposure to the flu,” said Dr. Angela Dearinger, the state health commissioner. “We are strongly urging anyone who hasn’t received a flu vaccine, particularly those at high risk for complications related to the flu, to check with local health departments or other providers.”

The health department has reported 384 laboratory-confirmed flu cases across the state since Aug. 4.

“Flu can be very contagious,” the department noted in a press release. “It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective, so it is very important to get the flu shot as soon as possible.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends flu shots for everyone six months of age and older. People who are strongly encouraged to get a shot because they may be at higher risk for complications or negative consequences include:

  • Children aged six months through 59 months (less than 5 years)
  • Women who are or will be pregnant during the influenza season
  • Persons 50 years of age or older
  • Persons with extreme obesity (body mass index of 40 or greater)
  • Persons aged six months and older with chronic health problems
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • Household contacts (including children) and caregivers of children less than five years old, particularly contacts of children less than six months old and adults 50 and older
  • Household contacts and caregivers or people who live with a person at high-risk for complications from the flu
  • Health-care workers, including physicians, nurses, and other workers in inpatient and outpatient-care settings, medical emergency-response workers such as paramedics and emergency medical technicians), employees of nursing home and long-term care facilities who have contact with patients or residents, and students in these professions who will have contact with patients
“It is especially important for pregnant women to be vaccinated before or during pregnancy,” the news release says. “Antibodies cross the placenta and provide immunity to infants up to six months of age, when the infant is eligible to receive their dose of flu vaccine. Last season in Kentucky, there were infants less than one month old that had the flu.”

The health department said getting vaccinated is especially important because the U.S. has its longest flu season ever last year, with more than 647,000 flu-related hospitalizations and more than 61,000 people deaths. Kentucky had 194 flu-related deaths, including two children.

“The flu vaccine has been changed to better protect against the types of flu that were seen last season,” the news release says. “The flu vaccine is especially important in light of the longest flu season the nation experienced last year. . . . Both the CDC and manufacturers of the flu vaccine report that there are no shortages of vaccine. Vaccination can be given any time during the flu season, but providers are encouraged to administer the vaccine as soon as possible. Medicaid, Medicare and most private health-insurance providers cover flu vaccination as a preventive service.”
Dearinger said, “Vaccination is the best tool we have to prevent the flu. It is also extremely important to take simple preventive steps to avoid the flu and other illnesses that tend to circulate at this time of year – wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and stay home when you are sick.”

The health department reports flu activity to the CDC. The report is updated on Fridays and is posted online at https://healthalerts.ky.gov/Pages/FluActivity.aspx.”The report consists of laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza that are defined by molecular virus testing and positive virus culture test results,” the release says. “Rapid-positive influenza tests are not included in this report, but are used as an indicator of flu-like illness circulating across the state.”