The best way to protect against the flu is to receive a flu vaccination. Flu vaccinations may be obtained at local health departments, healthcare provider offices, local clinics and pharmacies. Consumers should check for availability before they arrive, but overall flu vaccine supplies remain ample this season. Many health plans cover the cost of the vaccine.
Public health officials emphasized that it isn’t too late for vaccination. The flu season can begin as early as October and last through May. It takes about two weeks for immunity to develop and offer protection against the flu. Vaccination can be given any time during the flu season.
DPH officials reported to the CDC this week that the influenza activity level in Kentucky is currently listed as “regional,” which indicates outbreaks of influenza or increases in influenza-like illness (ILI) and recent laboratory confirmed influenza in at least two but less than half the regions of the state with recent laboratory evidence of influenza in those regions. The activity levels for states are tracked weekly as part of the CDC’s national flu surveillance system.
The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends flu vaccine for all individuals 6 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 6 months through 4 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.
Kentuckians should receive a new flu vaccination each season for optimal protection. Healthy, non-pregnant people ages 2 through 49 can be vaccinated with either the flu shot or the nasal spray vaccine. Children ages 6 months through 8 years who have never received a previous seasonal flu vaccination or have only received one flu vaccination in the past should receive a second dose four or more weeks after their first vaccination. Health professionals can help determine if a child will need two vaccinations against flu this season in order to provide the best protection
Some high-dose flu vaccine is available as an option for individuals age 65 and older. A higher dose of antigen in the vaccine is designed to create a stronger immune response and provide better protection against the flu. However, the CDC has not expressed a preference for high-dose vaccine, so Kentuckians 65 and older are urged to receive the regular dose vaccine if the high dose vaccine is unavailable.
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.
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.