Health department reports first flu deaths of children this season, continues to urge vaccinations; disease widespread across U.S.

A flu patient in Escondido, Calif. (Photo: Gregory Bull, AP)
At least 36 Kentuckians have died from influenza this season, and the number includes two children, who died in the past few weeks, according to the state Department for Public Health. The average age of the adults who died is 75, health officials said in their weekly flu report. They did not release other information about the two children, citing privacy reasons.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the families. These personal losses are a reminder for all of us that flu can be a serious illness, for young and old alike,” said Dr. Jeffrey D. Howard, the acting health commissioner. “We strongly encourage people to protect themselves, particularly children 6 months and older and those people at high risk for complications related to the flu. Stay at home if they have the flu or flu-like symptoms and avoid contact with others.”

The department reports that there have been 49 outbreaks of flu in Kentucky nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Flu is widespread across the continental U.S., the first time that has happened in the 13 years of the current national tracking system. "Officials said that this flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst in recent years," Helen Branswell reports for Stat, the health-and-science news site of The Boston Globe. "The rate of flu hospitalizations nearly doubled last week." But officials said this flu season still isn't as bad as the one in 2014-15.

This point on the calendar is typically the peak of flu season, but it extends well into the spring, and health officials still urge those who haven't had a flu shot to get one. The vaccination takes about two weeks to generate immunity. Meanwhile, they recommend these precautions:
·        Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
·        While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
·        If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine).
·        Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
·        Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
·        Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. 
·        Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

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