Health and Family Services Cabinet
Public Health Reporting Widespread Flu Activity
Dec. 7-13 is National Influenza Vaccination Week
Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) officials reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week that the influenza (flu) activity level in the state has increased from “regional” to “widespread.” Widespread activity is the highest level of flu activity, which indicates increased flu-like activity or flu outbreaks in at least half of the regions in the state. The activity levels for states are tracked weekly as part of the CDC’s national flu surveillance system.
"With current widespread flu activity being reported in Kentucky and National Influenza Week still ongoing, now is a good time to protect yourself and your family by putting a flu shot on your holiday to do list," said Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, commissioner of DPH. “As the holidays approach, people will be traveling and families will gather together, increasing the potential for exposure to the flu. 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.”
National Influenza Vaccination Week began Dec. 7 and will run through Dec. 13, coinciding with the holiday season to help reduce the spread of illness as Kentuckians gather for shopping, travel and holiday parties and family events.
Flu vaccinations are widely available at local health departments, provider offices, local clinics and pharmacies. Many health plans cover the cost of the vaccine.
Public health officials emphasized that it isn’t too late for the vaccine to be effective. The flu season can begin as early as October and last through May.
The holiday season is still a good time to get vaccinated against the flu because it takes about two weeks for immunity to develop and offer protection against flu. However, vaccination can be given any time during the flu season, and this year there is a plentiful vaccine supply.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends flu vaccine for all individuals 6 months of age and older. People who are especially encouraged to receive the flu vaccine, because they may be at higher risk for complications or negative consequences, include:
• Children ages 6 months to 19 years;
• Pregnant women;
• People 50 years old or older;
• People of any age with chronic health problems;
• People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
• Health care workers;
•Caregivers of or people who live with a person at high risk for complications from the flu; and
•Out-of-home caregivers of or people who live with children less than 6 months old.
Kentuckians should receive a new flu vaccination each season for optimal protection. Healthy, non-pregnant people ages 2 through 49 can be vaccinated with either the flu shot or the nasal vaccine spray. Children younger than 9 years old who did not receive a previous seasonal flu vaccination should receive a second dose at least four weeks after their first vaccination.
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.
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. However, actual numbers of deaths vary from year to year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released information last week that some of the nation’s circulating influenza A (H3N2) type viruses, the most common so far, may not be covered well by this year’s vaccine. This situation is not unusual. It is challenging to anticipate the strains that will circulate during the season since flu vaccine is made months before the season begins. Despite the possibility of a poor vaccine match for one of the circulating strains, vaccination still provides the best protection against influenza. The vaccine appears to be a good match for many of the strains which are being transmitted and because of antibody cross-protection should help to reduce hospitalizations and deaths, even in persons who may contract the mismatched strain of influenza.
In addition to flu vaccine, DPH strongly encourages all adults 65 years and older and others in high risk groups to ask their health care provider about the pneumococcal vaccines. These vaccines can help prevent a type of pneumonia, one of the flu’s most serious and potentially deadly complications. The CDC now recommends that adults 65 years or older receive the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13, Prevnar-13) in addition to the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23, PNEUMOVAX-23). Getting both vaccines offers the best protection against pneumococcal disease. Between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths are attributed to flu and pneumonia nationally each year, with more than 90 percent of those deaths occurring in people age 65 and older.
For more information on influenza or the availability of flu vaccine, please contact your local health department or visit http://healthalerts.ky.gov.
The Cabinet for Health and Family Services is home to most of the state's human services and health care programs, including Medicaid, the Department for Community Based Services and the Department for Public Health. CHFS is one of the largest agencies in state government, with nearly 8,000 full- and part-time employees throughout the Commonwealth focused on improving the lives and health of Kentuckians.