State health officials report that Kentucky has 10 confirmed cases of influenza already this year, suggesting flu season could be starting early. The cases are in Bullitt, Fayette and Jefferson counties.
Flu season in Kentucky typically begins in October or November and runs through May. Public-health officials are encouraging Kentuckians to get a flu vaccine.
“Getting the flu can be debilitating and sometimes life-threatening, and vaccination is the best tool we have to prevent illness,” Health Commissioner Hiram C. Polk said in a news release.
While health experts agree that vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu and that getting a flu shot early is better than not getting one at all, some are encouraging those 65 and older to wait until at least Halloween to assure optimal protection later in the season, Julie Appleby reports for Kaiser Health News.
“That’s because a combination of factors makes it more difficult for the immune systems of people older than age 65 to respond to the vaccination in the first place. And its protective effects may wear off faster for this age group than it does for young people,” she writes.
These experts are citing a study done during the 2011-12 flu season that found the effectiveness of the vaccine declines in the months following vaccination “primarily affecting persons age 65 and older.”
Polk also encouraged common-sense precautions to protect against the flu, such as sneezing into your elbow or using a tissue that you throw away when you cough or sneeze; staying home when your are sick; and washing your hands frequently with soap and water.
Other suggestions include avoiding close contact with sick people; not touching your eyes, nose and mouth and keeping surfaces and objects that could be contaminated with germs disinfected.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends flu vaccine for all individuals 6 months and older. However, it no longer recommends the nasal spray flu vaccine because it has been shown to be ineffective during several of the past flu seasons.
People who are strongly encouraged to receive the vaccine because they may be at higher risk for complications or negative consequences, include:
- Children, age 6 months through 4 years;
- Pregnant women;
- People 50 years old or older;
- People 6 months and older with chronic health problems;
- Extremely obese people;
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
- Health care workers, household contacts and caregivers of people who live with a person at high risk for complications from the flu; and
- Out-of-home caregivers of children less than 5 years, but especially for caregivers of those who are less than 6 months old.
Flu is caused by a virus and is very contagious. Symptoms include fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches.Vaccination can be given any time during the flu season and the release notes there should be an adequate supply of the vaccine this year.
For more information on influenza or the availability of flu vaccine, please contact your local health department or visit http://healthalerts.ky.gov.