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Doc: Letcher Co. residents need flu shot

Just when COVID-19 is beginning to recede, flu season is kicking back up, and doctors are warning it could be a doozy.

Last year, when COVID restrictions were in place, influenza infections were down 60 percent nationwide, but this year restrictions have been lifted and many people are going without masks and attending large gatherings again. Doctors expect flu cases to explode as a result. Dr. Fares Khater, infectious disease specialist at Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation, said everyone six months old and above should get the flu vaccine.

“This year it’s more important than any other year. Almost no flu cases last year because of the COVID precautions, so there’s no immunity to this flu this year,” Khater said. “Second, if the masking gets lifted there will be more opportunity for respiratory virus (RSV) to spread, including the flu.”

Khater said there were widespread cases of RSV and parainfluenza this summer even though those infections are usually spread during the cold months.

“Why did we get this in the summer this year? Same reason. We didn’t have any cases last year, people wore their masks, and we have low immunity this year,” he said.

Symptoms of flu and COVID can be similar, so people may be confused about which ailment they may have, but Khater said there are key differences.

Flu usually comes on suddenly and has an incubation period of two to four days. Symptoms include fever, body aches, and congestion, but flu does not cause loss of taste or loss of smell. Loss of taste and smell are symptoms of COVID-19. COVID symptoms also include all the symptoms of flu, plus headache, nausea, diarrhea, and sore throat.

Kentucky and the remainder of the country are beginning to see some relief in the number of COVID-19 cases.

The trend has been going on for several weeks, and experts now say it seems like a genuine reduction in infections rather than a chance occurrence.

According to the latest figures from the Kentucky Department of Public Health, Letcher County now has had 3,769 cases of COVID, or about 17 percent of the population. That number is up 40 from one week earlier, a number much small there than recent weeks when the number of cases could average 40 or more per day.

Deaths in Letcher County are still listed as 65 by the state, but the incident rate is now 29.2 compared to 35.1 a week before and 88.2 on September 20.

Vaccination rates are also up. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 47.6 percent of Letcher County residents have been fully vaccinated, and 55.6 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated. For adults, 57.7 percent and 72.4 percent 65 and over have been fully vaccinated.

Khater said while the number of persons fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has increased “dramatically” over the past couple of months, it’s still too low.

“We need the percentage in the whole population, that means everybody, to hit the 70- to 80-percent range to reach herd immunity,” Khater said.

MCHC has set up a drivethrough vaccine site at the old Whitesburg High School. Khater said the number of vaccinations has increased greatly since people are able to get their shots without going into the clinic.

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