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Flu strikes early in Kentucky

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By Mallory Bilger

‘Tis the season for sneezing and wheezing, coughing and aching, upset stomachs and headaches. Pretty much everyone has personally experienced or knows someone who has experienced the myriad of nasty viruses that love to spread this time of year, and, as usual, the one garnering the most attention regionally is influenza.
Flu season has hit Kentucky a bit early this year, leaving Spencer Countians, and the rest of the state’s population, vulnerable to the virus that is known for causing extreme fatigue, fever, aches, cold-like symptoms and even more serious complications in the elderly, very young and immunocompromised.
According to the North Central Health District’s Regional Epidemiologist Katie Myatt, the flu is now classified as “widespread” in Kentucky.
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, classic seasonal flu symptoms include fever and/or chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache, fatigue, and some may experience vomiting and diarrhea.  
“We’re seeing an increase in North Central counties,” Myatt said. Those counties include Spencer, Shelby, Henry and Trimble counties. “Usually influenza peaks in Kentuckiana in January, so it is a little early.”
Several local school nurses said they have not seen an uptick in flu cases in the schools yet, but other common illnesses such as strep throat, the “stomach bug” — which can include a myriad of different gastrointestinal viruses — and seasonal allergies have caused attendance to be a bit lackluster.
“I’ve probably had no more than four notes saying flu symptoms,” Spencer County High School Attendance Clerk Kim Foster said. “The past two weeks, we’ve been hanging around 93 percent attendance, so we’re a little bit low.”
Although parents and guardians are required to provide a note documenting doctor’s visits that interfere with regular school hours, that note does not have to specify the child’s illness.
Spencer County Elementary School Nurse Cindy Hayes said it is sometimes hard to pinpoint exact illnesses without the parent directly communicating that illness to school administrators.
“You don’t know for sure unless they call and tell you,” Hayes said. “I have not had one parent call and tell me that their child has had the flu.”
However, Myatt said data coming out of the Kentucky Department of Public Health indicates that everyone should be preparing to combat season flu because cases are now being confirmed. She said the best defense is receiving a flu vaccination, which is altered yearly to be most effective against the strain or strains predicted to circulate.
“What the state is seeing is that most of the cases are the seasonal H3N2 (type), which is (covered) in the flu shot,” Myatt said, noting that free flu vaccinations are still available by-appointment at the Spencer County Health Department.
“We’d like everyone to get them. That’s your best preventative measure is to get the flu shot. Really, there is no specific population that should get one over the other, everyone should. Babies, the elderly, immunocompromised, they definitely need it,” she said, adding that infants must be six months or older to receive the vaccine.
Spencer County Middle School Nurse Kathy Dippel said around 100 Spencer County Schools employees received a flu shot in October at a flu clinic offered in conjunction with the North Central Health District.
“We really wish people would get their flu shot,” Dippel said. “It is a safe vaccine and we like to promote that.”
Myatt reiterated the importance of hand washing, which fends off a multitude of illnesses, and coughing into your elbow, not your hands.
“It is definitely something I think we can’t emphasize enough,” she said. “ Make sure you wash your hands and you only use hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available.”
She added that anyone who is sick with the flu, or any other contagious illness, should stay home, and parents should keep sick children home as well.
For additional information on receiving a free flu vaccination from the health department, call 477-8146. Vaccinations are also available at many pharmacies and generally at your primary care physician’s office.