Skip to main navigation Skip to main content

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 900,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 80,000 flu-related deaths occurred in the US during the 2017-2018 flu season. Signs and symptoms of the flu typically are intense and occur suddenly. Fever (usually high), headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children) are common symptoms.

Complications of the flu include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, sepsis and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, diabetes and asthma.

The flu virus is spread by people who are ill through airborne droplets emitted by coughing and sneezing. You also may contract the flu by touching objects contaminated with the virus.

According to the CDC, most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick. While it is a serious viral disease, it also is a preventable one. The best method of prevention is to receive your flu vaccination every year.

Who should get the Flu Vaccine?

Vaccine experts recommend that everyone 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated against the flu. While vaccination against the flu is recommended for everyone, it is especially important for those at high risk for serious flu-related complications or those who live with or care for people at high risk. This includes:

  • Children younger than 5 years, but especially those younger than 2 years;
  • Pregnant women;
  • People 65 and older;
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions;
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including: 
    • Health care workers;
    • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from flu; and 
    • Household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children younger than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated).

When should I get the flu vaccine?

Get your flu shot as soon as possible once annual vaccine is available. Flu season most often peaks in January or February or later, so for people not able to get the flu vaccine in the Fall, vaccination in December, January and beyond is beneficial in most years.

Good Health Habits to Prevent the Spread of Flu

As flu season approaches, the Kentucky Department for Public Health encourages good health and hygiene habits to prevent the spread of flu at home, work and school. Flu is spread by contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person. Some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs and desktops. The state public health agency urges all residents to take basic precautions to avoid the spread of germs and viruses. In addition to covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing, other good health habits that can help prevent the spread of flu and other respiratory viruses are:          

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 15-20 seconds or  use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs often are spread when a person touches an object contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Get an annual flu shot to help you develop antibodies to protect against flu infection.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from contracting your illness.
  • Stay home from work, school and errands if possible when you are sick. This will help prevent others from catching your illness.
  • Remind children to practice healthy habits because germs spread easily at school and in child care settings, resulting in high rates of absenteeism among students and staff in our state’s schools.

Pneumococcal infection information

Pneumococcal infections are caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumonia and can cause a variety of illnesses including middle ear infections, pneumonia, blood stream infections, sinus infections and meningitis.

Although anyone can contract pneumococcal disease, some groups are at higher risk than others, including persons age 65 years and older, those with chronic illness or weakened immune systems and residents of chronic or long-term care facilities.

Learn more about pneumococcal illness from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What is the flu?

Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is a serious, infectious, viral respiratory disease. Cases of the flu occur all year round, but most cases occur during December through April.

How is the flu spread?

The virus is spread from the nose and throat of infected persons by droplet secretions to the nose and throat of other people. If susceptible, those people can also become infected and develop symptoms of illness. An adult can spread the flu anytime from 24 hours before, up to five days after showing symptoms; children may be able to transmit the virus to others for as long as seven or more days after showing symptoms.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

About one to four days after being exposed to the flu, a susceptible person will typically experience an abrupt onset of fever, cough and/or sore throat, headache, chills and muscle aches. Symptoms usually do not include vomiting and diarrhea. Most people also just generally feel very sick, weak and tired. The illness usually resolves after several days, although coughing and weakness can persist for several weeks. If a person has other medical conditions, such as lung or heart disease, they may develop secondary bacterial, or primary viral pneumonia.

How is the flu diagnosed?

Practitioners commonly diagnose the flu based on clinical symptoms. Swabs of nasal secretions may be tested by rapid antigen tests to determine if the flu is present.  Secretions from the nose and throat also may be tested. Testing can reveal the type of flu present (A or B) and the strain. This information can be used to determine the contents needed for annual vaccines.

What is the treatment for the flu?

Antibiotics do not work on viruses. A practitioner may prescribe antiviral drugs, which may help lessen the duration and severity of the flu. Practical treatments consist of getting plenty of rest and increasing fluid intake. Taking over-the-counter medications for cough, pain relief, fever reduction and congestion along with an antihistamine may provide some relief for certain individuals while the illness runs its course.

How can the flu be prevented?

The primary method of preventing the flu (and its more severe complications) is by obtaining the flu vaccine each year. During flu season, avoid exposure to others who are sick with flu and cold symptoms as much as possible. Get optimal amounts of rest and exercise and eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet daily. One of the simplest ways to prevent illness is to wash your hands before meals, and especially after encounters with those who are sick. Avoid touching your face, nose, eyes and mouth, which are points of entry for germs. If you become sick with the flu, prevent spreading the virus to others by staying home, covering coughs and sneezes with tissues and immediately disposing of tissues properly, followed by washing your hands. Remember to drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated.

 What is Pandemic flu?

Pandemic flu is a worldwide occurrence of a new strain of the flu. Pandemics are different from seasonal outbreaks or epidemics of the flu. Seasonal outbreaks are caused by subtypes of flu viruses already in existence, whereas pandemic outbreaks are caused by new subtypes or by subtypes that have never before circulated among people or haven't circulated for a long time. To cause a pandemic, a new type of flu:

  • spreads easily from person to person
  • causes serious illness
  • is a kind of flu few people are immune to.

Pandemic flu has occurred naturally throughout history. There have been four pandemics in the last 100 years:

  • 1918 - 1919: Spanish Flu
  • 1957 - 1958: Asian Flu
  • 1968 - 1969: Hong Kong flu
  • 2010: Novel Influenza A H1N1

Pandemics are unpredictable. It is hard to know when one will occur, what type of flu it will be and how severe it will be. A flu pandemic could cause many deaths and severe illnesses. It could also disrupt some parts of daily life and limit the amount of health and other services available. Gatherings of people might be limited to control the spread of the disease. Schools and businesses may close, sporting events could be cancelled and transportation could be limited. In addition, hospitals could be overloaded. Doctors and nurses could become sick.

Protecting the public against a pandemic is a challenge. Large amounts of vaccine may need to be manufactured. The vaccine cannot be made until the virus for the pandemic is identified. It may take months to make adequate vaccine amounts for everyone and vaccination against other types of influnza will not provide protection.

What is Avian Flu (Bird Flu)?

Avian flu or bird flu is an infection caused by bird flu viruses. These flu viruses occur naturally among birds and they carry the viruses in their intestines, but usually do not get sick from them. However, bird flu is very contagious among birds and can make some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks and turkeys very sick and kill them.