Four people have died from the flu in Kentucky since August. State officials say all those people had other health conditions, and hadn’t received the flu shot.
As flu season ramps up, the Kentucky Department of Public Health also reports that there have been 1,622 confirmed flu cases across the state. Acting State Epidemiologist Doug Thoroughman said not getting vaccinated increases the risk of death, especially in people who have existing health conditions.
“If you have other significant health issues, the flu can really push you over the edge and cause really significant health problem,” Thoroughman said.
One of the reported deaths is from Louisville; an unvaccinated older adult with medical conditions died Dec. 7. Louisville health officials are also reporting a big increase in flu cases over the past two weeks.
“The fact that we are seeing flu death so early in the year and the fact that Australia has just weathered one of its worst flu seasons on record may mean that we are in for a severe flu season here in the United States and in the rest of the northern hemisphere,” said Sarah Moyer, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness in a press release.
About 12,000 to 61,000 people die every year from the flu or flu-related complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health officials recommend people get a flu shot, which is covered by most insurance plans. The recommendation is especially important for children under age five, adults over age 65, pregnant women, nursing home residents and people with chronic conditions.
Thoroughman said Kentucky’s peak flu season usually happens in February or March. And he said the state count of cases and deaths is likely underreported. Regional officials try to identify people who’ve died from the flu, and coroner’s reports are used to identify cases.
“They could have had a heart attack, but it could have been caused because they had influenza,” Thoroughman said. “But you would list by those myocardial infarction as the cause of death, and not flu. You might not even test for flu because the person had a heart attack. We definitely will miss cases every year.”