With the holiday season often comes an increase in the number of flu cases across Kentucky. Over the last week state officials report rates of the flu virus jumped from 'sporadic' to a 'regional' designation.
State Epidemiologist Kraig Humbaugh says getting a flu shot remains the primary recommendation. "Each flu season unfortunately, thousands of Americans die from flu or flu-related complications and the flu shot is folks best protection against influenza," said Humbaugh.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Kentucky has spent five weeks at its highest level of flu, which is far more than last year. That means more than half of the state’s regions have reported an increased number of cases. Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services spokesperson Gwenda Bond says although this year’s outbreak is more severe than previous years, it is not too out of the ordinary.
"There seems to be at least one point in every flu season when all states are experiencing heavier activity and it seems like we’ve just gotten there a little earlier this year," she says.
Bond says the number in some other states has already begun to taper off, which could indicate that flu season is nearing its end. However, she says predicting the end of flu season is near impossible.
"It’s really hard to judge year to year how heavy or light a flu season will be, and we’ve been lucky for the past several years we’ve had relatively light flu activity," she says.
Kentucky health officials say flu cases are being seen earlier this year. State epidemiologist Dr. Kraig Humbaugh says it's hard to predict if that could mean a more severe flu season or if we'll reach peak season earlier. "We've already reached what we call a regional level of flu activity in the state and that's one level away from widespread and that's the highest category," explains Humbaugh.
Flu season in Kentucky typically peaks in January or February. The earliest flu activity this season was reported in August in eastern Kentucky. Dr. Humbaugh says the number of statewide cases has climbed over the past few weeks.
The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone over the age of six months.
A health department has confirmed flu cases in eastern Kentucky and is urging people in the community to get vaccinated. WYMT-TV reports the flu cases confirmed by the Ashland-Boyd County Health Department are the first cases of seasonal flu reported in Kentucky.