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Kentucky releases one-stop source for respiratory virus information

Kentucky Public Health

As cold and flu season arrives, experts urge Kentuckians to stay informed about risks of viral infections. The Kentucky Department of Health’s Respiratory Viruses Dashboard lists current infection and hospitalization rates for COVID-19, influenza, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), as well as information on the diseases and what to do when sick.

Dr. Steven Stack is the Kentucky Commissioner for Public Health. He said knowledge of each disease is important, as even moderate activity for each virus can overwhelm hospitals.

“Since COVID puts more people in the hospital by far than both influenza or RSV and causes more severe illness across a larger percent of the population, the combination of COVID plus influenza plus RSV, those three diseases, can really strain the healthcare system,” said Stack.

Stack said county-by-county data isn’t currently collected as it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, so the reports are kept statewide to ensure the data is reliable.

The COVID-19 vaccine is now commercially distributed as of 2023, and the RSV vaccine is in its first year of use. Due to these factors, Stack said there have been some challenges with these vaccine rollouts, but the high demand means Kentuckians are serious about keeping themselves healthy.

“The public is feeling that complexity as they’re navigating. And I wish it could be done more smoothly, but the United States healthcare delivery system is enormous and complex, and unfortunately, that complexity makes it difficult at times to do some of these rollouts as seamlessly as we would like,” said Stack.

Officials said groups like young children and the elderly are more prone to serious respiratory illness, but everyone should follow proper precautions.

Dr. Stack said the best thing a sick person can do is avoid going in public to prevent the further spread of illness.

“We make a point to put at the very top: look, if you’re sick, please stay home so you don’t spread disease to others knowingly. Make sure you stay up to date with your vaccines. That’s a good way to lower your personal risk and also lower the risk to others at times,” said Stack. “Wash your hands often, cover your coughs and sneezes and if you’re in a particularly vulnerable population, you should consider wearing a mask.”

The dashboard and other public health resources are available online at coveryourcough.ky.gov.