Flu cases continue to climb

Dec. 7—Flu cases and other respiratory illnesses have continued to increase in the state and country since October.

"We're hearing a lot about flu," said Clay Horton, public health director for the Green River District Health Department. "Our surveillance reports are showing that the flu and cases in our area continue to increase.

"There are lots of respiratory illnesses circulating in the community."

According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health's most recent weekly influenza surveillance report, there were 15,909 confirmed cases of influenza for the reporting period of Nov. 20-26, classifying the activity level as "widespread."

Laura Gillim, infection prevention supervisor at Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, said it has been an early flu season compared to previous years.

Last season saw cases peaking in March 2022.

"We're definitely seeing high numbers now," Gillim said Tuesday. "Currently, we are at 1,180 positive influenza swabs for the month of November; and if looking back to the highest month prior to that (was) March 2022, which we had 493 positive influenza swabs — a drastic, drastic increase.

"I've been in infection prevention since 2010, and this is the highest number of positive influenza swabs for a single month that we have seen."

There were 189 positive swabs in October, while there have been 138 positive swabs reported from Dec. 1-4, according to Gillim.

Horton also cautions that COVID-19 is "still out there."

On Tuesday, the GRDHD reported 378 new COVID-19 cases in the seven-county region for the week of Nov. 28 to Dec. 4 — an increase of 167 cases from the previous weekly report.

Daviess County saw an uptick with 214 reported compared to the previously reported 112 cases.

Hancock County reported 15 new cases, McLean County rose to 16 new cases and Ohio County reported 35 new cases, an increase of 22.

There were no COVID-19-related deaths recorded in the district.

The district averaged 54 new COVID-19 cases a day, with Daviess, Hancock, McLean and Ohio counties classified as having medium COVID-19 community levels.

Horton said data could have been "backlogged" due to offices being closed for Thanksgiving, but the increase is notable.

"We're seeing that across the state, (and) I think you're seeing a similar trend across the country," he said. "It's not a rapid spike up like we've seen in some of our previous waves, but there's clearly an increase in cases."

Due to the high volumes of flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), COVID-19 and other viral illnesses, Owensboro Health implemented its Influenza Visitor Restriction Guidelines, which took effect Friday and applies to all Owensboro Health locations.

According to a press release, the policy change comes after OHRH's lab performed more than 400 rapid flu tests in a seven-day period, while statewide flu activity is categorized at the "very high" level.

Gillim said restrictions like this have taken effect before regarding the flu.

"In previous years, it was just asking persons with any influenza symptoms or influenza-like illness symptoms to not visit and encouraging (anyone) under the age of 18 not to visit," she said, "but this year we have added the extra step of required masking."

According to the press release, masks are required in public settings or patient-facing situations; visitors should be kept to a minimum; anyone with a cold, respiratory illness or flu symptoms should refrain from visiting; and visitors are asked to leave the facility immediately after visiting a patient room and not loiter.

Horton and Gillim encourage people to take steps to protect themselves, especially by getting a flu shot if possible.

According to Gillim, when looking at influenza admissions last week, only 23% were vaccinated.

"No vaccine is 100% preventing infection, and the flu vaccine is no different," she said, "but it will help lessen the severity of your illness and potentially reduce hospitalization."

For more information of where you can receive a flu shot, visit vaccines.gov/find-vaccines.