Quick Takes

Kentuckians urged to get vaccinated against flu which has already killed six children

By: - December 19, 2022 6:54 pm

Physicians and public officials are urging Kentuckian to get a flu vaccine. (Photo by Getty Images)

Facing the worst flu outbreak in a decade, Kentucky has already recorded the deaths of six children from influenza, equaling the record for pediatric influenza flu deaths in a single season, according to a release from Gov. Andy Beshear’s office Monday afternoon.

Beshear encouraged Kentuckians to get vaccinated against the flu and said that three of the pediatric flu deaths had occurred in the past week.

Six children died in the 2019-20 flu season, the most in a single season until recent weeks.

None of the children who died in the current influenza season had received a flu shot, according to the Department for Public Health.

Earlier Monday, in a media briefing by Lexington hospitals, physicians urged people to get vaccinated against flu and COVID-19 and to stay away from other people if they feel sick.

Kentucky’s Children’s Hospital has opened an overflow unit for pediatric inpatients, said Dr. Gena Cooper, the hospital’s medical director for pediatric emergency medicine. On Monday,  Kentucky Children’s Hospital was treating five pediatric inpatients for flu and 13 pediatric inpatients for the respiratory virus RSV.

The release from the governor’s office says:

“This is a milestone we did not want to cross, and our prayers are with each of these families as they mourn the loss of their loved one,” said Gov. Beshear. “We are urging our families to get vaccinated as soon as possible to get protected from contracting the flu and COVID.”

“This current flu season is on track to be the worst in Kentucky in at least 10 years,” said Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Department for Public Health. “The flu vaccine is the single best way to protect you and your loved ones against the flu and reduces the risk of becoming dangerously ill or spreading disease.

“Unfortunately, fewer than 40% of Kentucky children have received their flu shot this season. It is imperative that every Kentuckian take the essential steps to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities,” he added.

State public health officials report weekly to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of statewide flu surveillance efforts. The Governor has been providing weekly updates on Thursdays as part of his Team Kentucky update news conferences. Kentucky currently is reporting 29,341 laboratory-confirmed cases of flu, with the state flu activity level classified as “widespread” for the ninth consecutive week. Most reported cases of influenza have occurred in children. The most current weekly report is available online.

Flu is a serious viral upper respiratory illness that can lead to prolonged sickness and absenteeism from school or work, medical visits to the emergency room or hospitalizations, and, in severe cases, death. Infection with the flu virus can cause fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches. Co-infections with other respiratory diseases, like RSV, COVID-19 and group A streptococcus, can increase risk of complications.

Though most influenza infections result in mild illness, serious symptoms such as difficulty or fast breathing, seizures, bluish lips or face, high fever (above 104 degrees), fever or cough that improves but then comes back or gets worse, dehydration (e.g., no urine for eight hours, dry mouth, no tears), or worsening of other medical conditions require medical attention. Antiviral treatment of influenza is also recommended to reduce the severity of the illness.

Health officials are strongly encouraging Kentuckians to get a flu vaccination. The CDC recommends that everyone ages 6 months older get the annual flu vaccine, especially children who are younger than 5 and people of any age who have a high-risk medical condition, because of their increased risk of developing complications that can lead to hospitalization or death.

Flu vaccines are widely available in health care provider offices and pharmacies. Vaccination can be given any time during the flu season and can be administered at the same time as COVID-19 vaccine or booster doses. Appointments for flu vaccination may be found at vaccines.gov.

Health officials also encourage good health habits to prevent the transmission of flu and other respiratory illnesses. These include washing hands often with soap and warm water, wearing a well-fitting mask when in indoor public places, and staying at home from work or school when sick.

More information on influenza is available here.

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