Flu virus hits county

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By Calen McKinney



Taylor Countians are battling the flu, but local officials say it hasn't become widespread here just yet.

The flu is widespread in Kentucky, according to the Centers for Disease Control. "Widespread" is the highest level of flu activity, which means there are flu outbreaks or flu-like activity in at least half of the regions across the state.

To help keep the flu from spreading in Taylor County, officials are recommending that residents who haven't had a flu shot be sure they get one.

According to local school officials, there have been cases of the flu reported among students, but attendance figures aren't low enough just yet to discuss canceling school.

Campbellsville Superintendent Mike Deaton said attendance in his District has been sporadic because of many factors and illnesses.

Taylor County Superintendent Roger Cook said his District's attendance figures are staying in the upper 90 percentages. When attendance dips to below 90 percent, he said, officials begin to talk about canceling school.

Taylor County officials last canceled school because of flu for two days in the 2011-2012 school year.

At Taylor County Elementary School, attendance last week was at 96 percent. Principal Donna Williams said there have been two confirmed cases of flu at her school.

Across town at Campbellsville Elementary School, attendance last week was between 93 and 95 percent. Students typically attend at a rate of 95 or 96 percent.

Several CES students have had flu-like symptoms, CES Principal Ricky Hunt said, but only three have tested positive for flu. Many students are experiencing stomach viruses and strep throat.

At Taylor County Middle School, attendance last Wednesday was 96.27 percent. Principal Tony Jewell said there haven't been any reports of flu at his school.

Taylor County High School Principal Charles Hidgon Jr. said attendance at his school last Wednesday was 94 percent, telling him that flu hasn't impacted his students much.

No information was available at press time as to the presence of flu at Campbellsville middle or high schools.

At Kentucky Christian Academy, officials report the school is clear of the flu.

Rodney Whitlock, infection preventist at Taylor Regional Hospital, said hospital officials have seen the flu in patients at the TRH Urgent Care Center. About 10 people have been confirmed as having it within the past few months, he said, and about three patients admitted at the hospital have had it.

"I think it's down from last year," Whitlock said.

He said he believes that's the case because doctors and health officials have really encouraged people to get flu shots this season.

Amy Tomlinson, public health preparedness manager for Lake Cumberland District Health Department, to which Taylor County belongs, said she doesn't know about any confirmed cases of flu in the county, but said there likely are some.

Whitlock and Tomlinson said residents can still get flu shots. Flu season begins in October and can last through May.

"Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a yearly vaccine," Tomlinson said.

Whitlock said flu shots can take two to four weeks to become effective. Shots can last three to six months, he said, so he has heard of residents taking two during flu season. He said he doesn't recommend that because it isn't clear how long shots last.

Whitlock said flu symptoms are different than what people feel when they have a cold. Flu symptoms include overall body aches, fever and sore throat.

"A lot of times, they'll come on suddenly," he said.

Tomlinson said symptoms also include fatigue, headaches, chills and cough. Not everyone with the flu will have a fever, she said.

If a person believes they have the flu, Whitlock said, they will likely simply feel miserable.

"They need to be treated," he said.

Whitlock recommends those who believe they have the flu should see a doctor within a day or two of symptoms appearing. He said that's when it's best to begin taking medicines such as Tamiflu to get rid of the illness.

Tomlinson said most people who have the flu don't need medical care and will recover in less than two weeks. Some, however, can experience severe complications from the illness, including death.

Tomlinson said there are prescription medications called "antiviral drugs" that can be used to treat the flu.

"Antiviral drugs fight influenza viruses in your body," he said. "They are different from antibiotics, which fight against bacterial infections."

Tomlinson said antiviral drugs can lessen flu symptoms and shorten the time a person is sick by one to two days.

"Antiviral drugs are not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine. While not 100 percent effective, a flu vaccine is the first and best way to prevent influenza."

Those who have the flu can spread it to people when they cough, sneeze or talk, Tomlinson said. People can also get the flu by touching a surface that has the virus on it, Whitlock said, such as a cart at a store.

He said it's important that residents wash their hands after touching items other people have likely touched.

"Washing their hands is really a biggie," he said. "Anything you touch could be contaminated.

"Hand sanitizer is a good way to kill these germs. Do not pass these germs around."

If a person touches something that has been touched by many others, Whitlock said, they should be careful to not touch their eyes or mouth.

"Well, that's how it's gonna enter your body," he said.

The same is true when a person shakes someone's hand.

"The next thing you don't want to do is put your hand to your eyes, your nose, your mouth," he said.

Whitlock also said residents shouldn't drink after other people, especially when they are sick.

Tomlinson said she recommends that people stay away from those who are sick.

"Linens, eating utensils and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first. Eating utensils can be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap and do not need to be cleaned separately. Further, frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at home, work and school, especially if someone is ill."

Those who have the flu, Tomlinson said, can infect someone else with the illness as early as a day before symptoms appear and as many as seven days after becoming sick. Symptoms can start one to four days after the virus enters a person's body.