Tracy Stewart (left) receives a flu shot from Terri Walters, R.N., during Western Baptist Hospital's annual free flu shot clinic in Doctors Office Building 2 in November. Though January and February are traditionally peak flu season, reports of flu throughout the region have started to intensify.
Regional reporting of positive flu cases across the state signal an early start to flu season, as health officials warn residents to prepare for winter’s virulent side.
While the traditional flu season tends to peak in January and February, nationally, positive flu cases have already spiked across southern states with Kentucky seeing a similar trend into December.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flu activity and surveillance data, Kentucky, Illinois and Tennessee were all upgraded from localized reporting of flu cases to regional spread of the virus since the last week of November.
The CDC marked eight states as reporting widespread flu cases. The nearest cases to the region being Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.
While the surveillance data does not account for the severity of the flu strains circulating, the upgrade means more respiratory specimens taken on symptomatic patients in those states are turning up positive for flu.
The CDC has said that nationally the flu seems to have arrived earlier than usual this year. Already a school system in Monroe County, southeast of Bowling Green, was forced to cancel classes last week when flu accounted for a nearly 20-percent drop in attendance, according to The Associated Press.
Brandi Earp, regional epidemiologist for the Purchase District Health Department, said of the eight western Kentucky counties in the Region 1 district — counties west of Kentucky Lake — there have been no positive lab results of flu reported, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t cases in the area.
Local providers aren’t required to report positive cases to the health department. Many physicians perform rapid flu tests in their office and if the diagnostic test returns positive, then they will go ahead and treat the patient for the flu.
Earp said she has heard of several of these reports from rapid flu tests, though the tests are technically left unconfirmed because they were not verified in the lab setting.
“In the last few weeks we’ve started to see more and the state has started to see more,” she said. “There’s been a little bit of activity a few months ago, but more recently, it’s the seasonal strains that have really picked up.”
Dr. David Saxon at Baptist Prime Care in Western Baptist Hospital has seen several positive cases of Type A and Type B strains of influenza in the area. The virus seems to take hold across all demographics, from children to the elderly, however, it’s still too early to tell whether the local flu season will take a turn for the worse, Saxon said.
“You can’t take a few sample cases and broaden from that,” he said. “From a national level it does sound like it will be a bad strain of flu this year and we have seen some examples of cases where patients have been extremely ill with flu symptoms already.”
For people exhibiting flu-like symptoms — high fever, severe aches, fatigue, sore throat, coughing, headaches, vomiting — Saxon recommended seeking medical treatment within the 24-hour period immediately following the onset of symptoms.
To keep from coming down with the flu, practice good hygiene, stay well rested and manage your stress levels to help the body maintain its immune system, Saxon said. And though flu season may have spooled up, consider a preventive flu shot.
“It’s not too late for a flu shot, because we’re still not into the height of the flu season yet,” Saxon said. “The flu shots provide protection within a few days and you should be in good shape two weeks after receiving it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676, or follow @WCPinkston on Twitter.