Level of influenza-like illness activity | Source: CDC

If you’ve been putting off getting a flu shot, now may be the time to make it a priority.

Health authorities in Louisville are reporting a recent uptick in flu cases, and the state notes that there have been at least five deaths among people with underlying conditions, including one child.

“Statewide flu activity is elevated, including in Jefferson County, and is currently classified as widespread,” according to the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness says there have been at least 875 local cases this season, including 570 cases reported the week of December 23-29.

Nurse Practitioner Rachel Alexander | Courtesy of Norton Healthcare

Norton Healthcare’s immediate care centers, which are located in Louisville, Southern Indiana and Shepherdsville, began seeing a deluge of cases in late December, going from 66 cases the week that ended Dec. 15, to 286 cases the week that ended Dec. 22.

“Throughout the system, we have seen an increase,” said Rachel Alexander, a nurse practitioner for Norton. “It’ll continue to go up in January and then February and March is typically when we would see the peak and it would come down after that.”

Alexander said various things could have contributed to the recent spread, such as people coming together for holiday gatherings, kids passing the flu around, and poor hand hygiene.

Alexander encourages anyone who hasn’t gotten a flu shot to do so.

“Even if you’ve already had the flu, it’s not too late because you can still catch another strain of the flu, so we always would recommend flu vaccine.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an annual flu shot for people ages 6 months and older, especially if they’re likely to develop complications. Individuals at higher risk of those problems include young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with chronic conditions, such as asthma and diabetes.

“They can end up hospitalized or even worse from flu,” Alexander said. “… Deaths or very serious illness from the flu are typically in the very young population and then the older population” and often the people haven’t been vaccinated.

Others who should seriously consider getting vaccinated include health care workers, people with very young children, people who work with the elderly, and anyone who has a vulnerable person at home, such as someone going through chemotherapy, Alexander said.

Courtesy of Pixabay

It’s also important to wash your hands often to help prevent the spread of the flu, she said. “You’re coughing and sneezing in your hands. Kids are rubbing their nose, things like that.”

People who suspect that they have the flu should contact their medical provider sooner rather than later for treatment, Alexander said.

An “antiviral will work the best within the first 48 hours of illness,” she said, although it is sometimes given later than that. “It decreases your symptoms, usually by a day or so, in most people and it helps prevent secondary complications of the flu like pneumonia and ear infections.”

Abrupt onset of symptoms is one of the hallmarks of the flu, Alexander said.

Often, “people will tell me they all of a sudden have extreme fatigue, fever, body aches and chills – things like that,” she said.

Alexander is part of Norton’s eCare service, an alternative to in-person medical visits. The service includes two options: video visits and secure online questionnaires coupled with a phone call.

“We can do an evaluation of your symptoms to see if we think this is more like the flu or this is a bacterial infection” and recommend treatment, Alexander said. Also, “we can help them get into an office or an immediate care center if they need to.”

The eCare service doesn’t do flu tests, but people can get treated based on symptoms and other information, such as a child or husband having recently been diagnosed with the flu, Alexander said.

Patients who’ve had a fever for several days or a sore throat would likely be advised to get an exam, she said.

Darla Carter
Darla Carter is a hometown girl who recently joined the staff of Insider Louisville to mostly cover health. She previously served as a longtime health and fitness writer for The Courier-Journal, where she also worked for the Metro, Neighborhoods and Features departments. Prior to that, the award-winning journalist wrote for newspapers elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee, covering a range of topics, from education to courts. She's a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she studied journalism and philosophy, and is the proud mom of two young children.