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Flu Season Starts Sunday; Kentucky Officials Urge Vaccines

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  Health officials are urging Kentuckians to get a flu vaccine as the start of the 2019-2020 season kicks off on Sunday.

The flu season usually lasts until mid-May, and last year’s season was the longest recorded at 21 weeks. Department for Public Health Clinical Affairs Senior Deputy Commissioner Connie White said the flu vaccine usually takes two weeks until it’s fully effective.

“Get that in your system because it does take a while before that will actually start developing the kind of protection that you need from the flu,” White said.

White said there have already been 154 laboratory-confirmed flu cases since August in the commonwealth. Nationally during the last flu season, there were 647,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 61,000 deaths from the flu. In Kentucky 194 people died, including two children.  

Kristina Bryant, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at the University of Louisville Hospital, said some people die from the flu virus itself. But many people get a secondary bacterial infection because their immune system is weakened.

“Every year, people get sick, some flu need to be hospitalized, and some die,” Bryant said. “And so there’s no reason to think that this year is going to be any different.”

The state’s first flu report will come out on Oct. 11, and is based on laboratory-confirmed cases. White said these reports don’t include all the flu cases because health providers are not required to notify the state when they diagnose the virus. But the reports do provide information for the public and for the state on which to base public health outreach efforts.

“So we are getting just a tip of the iceberg,” White said. “But what we get, we know is absolute and true flu.”

The state also gathers voluntary-submitted data from hospitals and doctor’s offices for influenza-like illnesses that haven’t been lab-verified.

“Your nurse practitioner examines you and says, ‘I think you have the flu go home,’ – if there’s no testing done, then we don’t have a way to capture that data,” White said, so the state reports that as a secondary number.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are a few different groups of people who are most at-risk for suffering more severe complications. Those include children between six months and five years old, pregnant women, people over age 50, residents of nursing homes and people in contact with those groups.

Symptoms of flu include cough, fever, headache, sore throat, sneezing and body aches.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter. Most recently, she was a reporter for Kaiser Health News. During her career, Gillespie has covered all things health — from Medicaid and Medicare payment policy and rural hospital closures to science funding and the dietary supplement market.
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