Sneeze

Mother Nature may not be playing by the book this year when it comes to traditional winter weather, but Americans nationwide still stand the risk of catching the flu virus — no matter the temperature.

This year, the national flu season outlook shows a number of states dealing with local and regional spread of the virus, while others like North Carolina, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are battling widespread influenza activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The flu activity is tracked weekly as a part of the CDC national flu surveillance system.  

Of the seriously affected states, Kentucky has seen a staggering increase in cases since the start of 2017. Over half the regions in the state have flu-like activity or confirmed cases.

Last week, Kentucky’s Department of Public Health increased the flu level from “regional” to “widespread.” with area officials urging people to be extra cautious and to follow proper steps for prevention.

Widespread activity is the highest level of flu activity on a six-level scale acknowledged by the CDC and other health organizations.

Although the flu season is more than half over, flu shots are still available at local health departments, clinics, drugstores and big-box retailers across the country. 

Elizabeth Coe, an advocate for the flu vaccine and an infection control registered nurse with Baptist Health in Corbin, Kentucky, said the vaccine doesn’t fully prevent individuals from getting the flu, but it does promise symptoms will be less severe.

Coe believes that more and more people are getting flu shots — despite widespread notions that getting the shot actually can induce flu-like symptoms worse than the actual virus.

For those who are unsure of whether flu vaccines do more harm than good, experts like Coe urge naysayers and holdouts to reconsider.

It is easy, according to Coe, for elderly individuals who get the flu to have the virus develop into pneumonia. If not properly treated and in individuals with low immune systems, pneumonia can be deadly. 

Individuals who are most encouraged to receive the flu vaccine are infants, pregnant women, the elderly, nursing home residents, individuals with chronic illness, and all health care workers.

Not sure what signs or symptoms to look for? Fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and body aches could all be signs of the flu this time of year. 

Because the flu is contagious for up to 24 hours prior to an individual having any symptoms, Coe offers that the age-old instruction to wash your hands is still one of the most important prevention measures. She also noted to stay home when you are sick. 

As unpredictable as this season’s oscillating weather patterns, the flu virus is best battled when individuals do their best to stay educated and stay prepared.

 The Corbin, Kentucky Times-Tribune contributed details to this story.

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