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Flu, pneumonia are 8th largest U.S. cause of death; officials urge all over six months to get flu shot

Flu season is here and will last through February or longer, prompting state health officials to encourage Kentuckians to get their flu vaccinations.

“During the holidays families and friends will gather, which increases the potential for exposure to the flu virus,” Dr. Jeffrey Howard, the state’s acting health commissioner, said in a news release. “We urge everyone who hasn’t received the flu vaccine, particularly those at high risk for complications related to the flu, to check with their regular health care professional, local health departments or other vaccine providers.”

Flu is a “very contagious” disease caused by a virus that spreads from person to person. Symptoms include fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches.

It can also be deadly. Flu and pneumonia are the eighth leading causes of death in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Just this week, Jennifer Earl of CBS News reported that a 20-year-old mother of two in Arizona died unexpectedly and quickly from flu.

Alani “Joie” Murrieta of Phoenix was being treated for the flu with an anti-viral medication called Tamiflu, but her health took a turn for the worse the day after her diagnosis. She was then rushed to the hospital, diagnosed with pneumonia and started treatment, but within two days of when she started feeling ill she was dead.

Murrieta’s aunt, Stephanie Gonzales, warned the public to take the flu seriously.

“Don’t take life for granted. If you feel sick, go to the doctor. Don’t wait until your symptoms are so bad there is no turning back,” she told CBS.

Kentucky’s flu level as of Friday was classified as “regional,” with 104 laboratory-confirmed cases, according to the state’s weekly influenza surveillance report. Twelve of the state’s 17 regions have had a confirmed case this flu season. As of Dec. 2, there had been no flu-related deaths reported in Kentucky.

NPR reports that the flu season could be “unusually harsh” this year because of several factors.

One is this year’s early start to the season, which could make it last longer and infect more people. Another is that Australia had a severe flu season this year and the U.S. typically has a similar experience to what happens in the southern hemisphere.

Australia’s bad season stemmed from a strain of the flu virus called H3N2 that tends to make people sicker than other strains, and because the flu vaccine was only about 10 percent effective against that strain this year in Australia. The U.S. is using the same vaccine as Australia, but its effectiveness in the U.S. is still unknown.

Health experts say that even an imperfect vaccine is better than no vaccine because it can help prevent or lessen the severity of the illness and also helps to promote “herd immunity” of the population.

The CDC recommends that everyone over six months of age get a flu vaccination, and especially encourages people who may be at higher risk for complications or negative consequences get one. They include:

• Children age six months through 59 months;
• Women who are or will be pregnant during the influenza season

• Persons 50 years of age or older

• Persons with extreme obesity (body-mass index of 40 or greater)

• Persons aged six months and older with chronic health problems

• Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

• Household contacts (including children) and caregivers of children younger than 5, particularly contacts of such children, or of adults 50 and older

• Household contacts and caregivers or people who live with a person at high-risk for complications from the flu

• Health care workers, including physicians, nurses, medical emergency-response workers, employees of nursing home and long-term care facilities who have contact with patients or residents, and students in these professions who will have contact with patients

Howard added, “You should also follow the advice your parents gave you to prevent flu and other illnesses that tend to circulate at this time of year – wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and stay home when you’re sick.”

From Kentucky Health News

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