By Portia Williams
Kentucky public health officials are encouraging Kentuckians to get a flu vaccination during National Influenza Vaccination Week, Dec. 6-12, in order to reduce the spread of illness during the holiday season.
In a news release from Kentucky Department of Health (KDH), Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, deputy commissioner of DPH, suggested the flu vaccine be seen as an early holiday gift.
“Getting a flu vaccine is an early holiday gift you can give to yourself and your family. As the holidays approach, people will be traveling, and families will gather together, increasing the potential for exposure to the flu,” Humbaugh said. “We are strongly urging anyone who hasn’t received a flu vaccine, particularly those at high risk for complications related to the flu, to check with their regular health care provider, local health departments or other vaccine providers.”
DPH officials report weekly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of statewide flu surveillance efforts. Kentucky’s flu activity is currently classified as “local,” indicating outbreaks of flu or increases in Influenza-Like Illness (ILI) cases in a single region of the state.
National Influenza Vaccination Week is a weeklong observance that serves as a reminder to those people who have not yet received a flu vaccine that the time to get vaccinated continues into winter – through February or later, when flu season typically peaks. Because it takes about two weeks for the body to develop protective antibodies against the flu following vaccination, Kentuckians who have not had a chance to be vaccinated should seek out the opportunity now. Vaccine supplies are considered plentiful at this time, but people are urged to call their providers or pharmacies to check on availability.
Throughout the week, the CDC and DPH will highlight the importance of vaccinations for those people at high risk, their close contacts and all those who want to be protected against the flu. In addition, good health habits such as washing hands often with soap and warm water, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and staying at home from work or school when sick will also be emphasized.
DPH advises that the best way to protect against the flu is to receive a flu vaccination. The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends flu vaccine for all individuals six months of age and older.
People who are strongly encouraged to receive the flu vaccine because they may be at higher risk for complications or negative consequences include:
• Children ages six months through four years;
• Pregnant women;
• People 50 years of age or older;
• People age 6 months and older with chronic health problems;
• People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
• Health care workers, household contacts and caregivers or people who live with a person at high risk for complications from the flu; and
• Out-of-home caregivers of children younger than 6 months old.
In addition to flu vaccine, DPH strongly encourages all adults 65 years and older and others in high-risk groups to ask their health care provider about the pneumococcal vaccines. These vaccines can help prevent a type of pneumonia, one of the flu’s most serious and potentially deadly complications. The CDC recommends that adults age 65 years and older receive the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13, Prevnar-13) in addition to the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23, Pneumovax-23) spaced at least one year apart. Getting both vaccines offers the best protection against pneumococcal disease. Between 3,000 and 49,000 influenza-associated deaths occur nationally each year, with 80 to 90 percent of those deaths occurring in people age 65 years and older.
Individuals with compromised immunity, those with sickle cell disease, without a spleen, with cochlear implants or cerebrospinal fluid leaks should also receive a series of the two pneumococcal vaccines. People ages 19 through 64 who smoke cigarettes or have asthma should also get the pneumococcal vaccine. People with chronic heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes and chronic liver disease should also ask their medical providers about pneumococcal vaccine. For children, routine vaccination for pneumococcal disease is recommended beginning at 2 months of age.
Chris Crum, executive director of Greenup County Health Department, said their objective is to educate the public about the ramifications of a flu shot.
“We want to make sure that everyone knows that you can’t get the flu from a flu shot. Get your flu shot. Stop thinking only of yourself. Protect the people around you that you care for, friends or family that might not have a strong immune system like you,” Crum said. “Do you want to be responsible for a totally preventable illness that endangers all those that you come in contact with? Get the flu shot as soon as you can.”
According to DPH, flu can be very contagious. Infection with the flu virus can cause fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches. Persons who develop flu symptoms should seek medical advice about the need for a medical evaluation or treatment with an antiviral drug, which could shorten the course of the illness or reduce its severity. For more information on influenza or the availability of flu vaccine, please contact your local health department or visit http://healthalerts.ky.gov.
Reach Portia Williams at 740-353-3101, ext. 1929, or on Twitter @PortiaWillPDT.