Flu Level Raised to 'Widespread' in Kentucky

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - The Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) 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 a state. The activity levels for states are tracked weekly as part of the CDC's national flu surveillance system. This level of flu activity is consistent with other southeastern states that are also currently reporting widespread activity.

"Having widespread flu activity being reported in Kentucky is very unusual in mid-September," said William D. Hacker, M.D., commissioner of DPH. "This high level of activity so early in the flu season is mainly due to the H1N1 virus circulating, not the seasonal flu. We are urging individuals to get vaccinated against seasonal flu now and also receive an H1N1 vaccination when the vaccine begins to arrive in Kentucky, which should be by mid-October. Because initial supplies of the H1N1vaccine may be limited, vaccine administration will be recommended first for priority groups based on those most at risk, according to the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices."

Hacker said the priority groups for the H1N1 vaccine include: people who are more likely to suffer complications from H1N1 flu, including pregnant women; people who live or care for children younger than 6 months of age; direct care health care and emergency medical services personnel; people between the ages of 6 months and 24 years old; and people from ages 25 through 64 years with chronic health conditions.

Although more than 500 deaths associated with H1N1 influenza have been reported nationwide (including one in Kentucky), the severity of H1N1 influenza illness appears comparable to seasonal influenza, which is responsible for about 200,000 hospitalizations each year, according to the CDC.

The CDC has told states to expect an increase in the number of cases of the H1N1 flu strain, which has been declared a worldwide pandemic, first identified in the spring. Kentucky is also planning for a potential H1N1 vaccination campaign once vaccine becomes available.

Hacker urges anyone who hasn't received a seasonal flu vaccine, particularly those in the groups at high risk for complications related to the flu, to contact their local health departments or health care provider about getting a flu shot.

Healthy people age 2 through 49 years can get flu immunizations administered by nasal spray. Older Kentuckians should also consider getting the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine.

Because the flu can spread easily among people in close contact and H1N1 has been more common in young people, health officials say it is especially important for those in school, day care or similar settings to practice good hygiene habits during the coming months.

Common sense precautions to prevent illness include: avoiding close contact with those who are ill; staying home when sick; covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing; avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth; and frequent hand washing.

The symptoms of both seasonal and H1N1 flu include fever, chills, headache, sore throat, cough, body aches and many include vomiting or diarrhea. Individuals at higher risk for complications - such as those with chronic health conditions or who are pregnant - should contact a health care provider early, in case treatment with antiviral medication is necessary.

States' flu activity information reported weekly to the CDC is delayed in posting to the CDC Web site by one week. The current flu activity map is located at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/usmap.htm.

For more information on H1N1 flu, visit www.flu.gov. Individuals can also visit http://healthalerts.ky.gov for information on H1N1 and Kentucky, or follow KYHealthAlerts on Twitter to be notified when new information is posted at the Web site.