The beginning of fall means it's also the beginning of flu season, prompting health officials to remind Kentuckians it's time to get vaccinated as a way to not only protect themselves, but also their loved ones. Flu season runs through May 2020.
Kentucky has already seen 154 confirmed cases of the flu since Aug. 4, according to the state health department. Last year, which was the nation's longest flu season ever, 194 Kentuckians died from the flu, two of which were children.
"Getting the flu can be debilitating and sometimes life-threatening," Dr. Angela Dearinger, the state's health commissioner, said in a news release.“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.”
Flu is a highly contagious disease caused by the influenza virus that spreads from person to person. Symptoms include fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, fatigue and body aches.
An antiviral drug can shorten the course of the illness or reduce its severity if given within two days of a person getting the flu, but there is no real treatment for the disease, and that's why health officials encourage everyone six months and older to get a flu shot.
The flu season has been particularly bad in the last few years, largely because the vaccine hasn't been a perfect match for the circulating virus, but the Kentucky Department for Public Health says the vaccine has been changed this year in hopes it will offer better protection against it.
Regardless, health officials urge everyone to get vaccinated not only because it reduces your risk of getting the flu, but because it also lessens the severity of the illness if you get it and makes you less likely to develop complications of the virus. It's also important to get vaccinated early because it takes the vaccine two to four weeks to become effective.
Overall, about half, or 49.6 percent, of Kentuckians six months and older were vaccinated during last year's flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while that rate has largely remained about the same since the 2010-11 flu season, last season's rate showed a slight increase from the 2017-18 season when that rate was 44.1%.
The CDC recommends that everyone over six months of age get a flu vaccination every year, and especially people who may be at higher risk for complications or negative consequences. They include:
Children aged six months through 59 months (just before turning 5);
Persons 50 or older;
Women who are or will be pregnant during the flu season;
Extremely obese people (body-mass index of 40 or greater);
Infants six months and older with chronic health problems;
Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
Household contacts and caregivers of children younger than 5 and adults 50 and older.
Household contacts and caregivers or people who live with a person at high-risk for complications from the flu; and
Health care workers, including physicians, nurses, medical-emergency response workers, employees of nursing homes and long-term care facilities who have contact with patients or residents, and students in these professions who will have contact with patients.
Pregnant women are encouraged to get vaccinated before or during their pregnancy because it also provides immunity to their baby up to 6 months of age. That's when infants are old enough to get vaccinated.
Medicaid and Medicare and most private insurance providers cover flu vaccination as a preventive service, according to a news release from the Northern Kentucky Health Department.