If you’ve been able to avoid the flu this season, consider yourself lucky.
Nearly 1,000 flu cases were confirmed last week in Louisville, the highest weekly total of the season, according to the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.
“It’s the absolute best way to avoid what can be a potentially very serious illness,” said Dave Langdon, a spokesman for the department. Also, “if you do get sick, stay home to avoid infecting others.”
Flu cases have been steadily increasing for the last few weeks in Louisville and the illness has been widespread across the state recently.
Last week’s total in Louisville beat the previous week’s total by more than 200 cases, going to 921 from 719.
Statewide, there have been more than 7,200 cases and at least 21 deaths, including that of a child, the Kentucky Department for Public Health said last week.
Though the 7,200 cases may seem high, “we’ve added more labs doing culture confirmed reporting this year, so that is likely the explanation,” said Beth Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
It’s hard to compare seasons before one is finished, according to the cabinet. But it says there are some indications that this season is less severe than last, such as fewer outbreaks at long-term care facilities and fewer deaths, judging from a recent week.
The Family Health Centers in Louisville have been seeing some flu cases but things seem to be on par with last year, a spokeswoman said.
Dr. Michael Bricken, a pediatrician with the Smoketown Family Wellness Center in Louisville, said the facility has been “seeing high percentages of flu in our sick patients. In the community, I know other pediatricians are similarly seeing high numbers of influenza weekly. I think we are still too early in the season to make a direct comparison to last year, but this season is definitely severe.”
Bricken said it’s important to remember that people may be able to infect others, beginning one day before symptoms are present and up to five to seven days after becoming sick.
But “people are most contagious in the first three to four days after symptoms begin,” he said via email. “A good rule of thumb is to avoid close contact with others until at least 24 hours without fever,” which he defines as a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher.
The CDC notes that it’s possible to spread flu to someone up to six feet away.
“Most experts think that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk,” according to the CDC. “These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.”