Local flu cases spiked in late December

The peak of flu season is fast approaching.

Kentucky’s Department for Public Health has already deemed influenza to be widespread across the commonwealth, and eight flu-related deaths had been reported by the end of December.

Numbers for Pulaski County itself weren’t available from the state, but Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital’s Infection Preventionist Judy Keen noted that the flu season didn’t kick into high gear locally until the last two weeks of the month. Keen monitors flu cases each year from October 1 to March 31. This year she noted only two cases during the first two weeks of the season, then nothing until the week of November 12.

“We started out very slow,” Keen said.

Then between the weeks of December 10 and December 17, the number of Influenza A cases jumped from 11 to 59. Last week (December 24-30), Keen saw 69 cases of Influenza A and five cases of Influenza B (which can include gastrointestinal symptoms. Nine of those cases were in-patient at the hospital, while the others were seen either in the emergency department or at doctor’s offices that use the LCRH lab.

“We do rapid-testing,” Keen said, noting that the state hasn’t traditionally counted those confirmations in their weekly reports. “Not all doctor’s offices do testing; they go by symptoms.”

Amanda England, Senior Regional Epidemiologist with the Lake Cumberland District Health Department, confirmed that most facilities don’t report rapid flu tests to the district office.

“To count as a confirmed case, it has to be a PCR [polymerase chain reaction] test,” England stated, “which most providers in our district do not use. I can say that based on rapid flu test results we receive, flu activity has increased the last two weeks in our district compared to earlier in December and November.”

Keen noted that most of the patients in her count have reported having had a flu shot, including herself. She got a quadrivalent vaccine that is supposed to protect against four strains of influenza.

“I’m just getting back from it myself,” Keen said, adding that she had come down with the flu four days before Christmas. “It’s an extremely bad flu, but it might have been much worse had I not had [a flu shot].”

Keen also notes that the flu totals could have been much higher had school not been out for Christmas break. Still the spike over the last two weeks can be considered huge. “Compared to previous years, we’ve never had that many,” she said.

The peak of the flu season typically occurs in late January and early February, but the season can run into may. Health officials recommend that everyone get a flu shot, particularly to protect the elderly and young children. It’s also important to wash your hands often.

Keen urges anyone with symptoms to just stay home. “I know it’s easier said that done, but it’s the best way to break the chain,” she said.