Four people in Kentucky have died from the flu, and health officials say this year they expect an increase in flu cases across the Commonwealth.
The Kentucky Department for Public Health also reports more than 1,600 laboratory-confirmed flu cases since early August.
Acting state epidemiologist Dr. Doug Thoroughman said he expects this flu season to stretch out, lasting longer than last year's.
"We're definitely seeing an earlier onset, with higher numbers this year than we saw in previous years," he said, "and we've now had two more deaths, so we've got six deaths to date; and our first pediatric death was reported."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last year the nation experienced the longest flu season on record. In Kentucky, there were 196 flu-related deaths, including two children. So far, Kentucky's flu activity is considered "moderate," according to the CDC's weekly Influenza Surveillance Report.
The flu is an upper respiratory infection caused by a virus that spreads through sneezing and coughing. Thoroughman said many people still underestimate how deadly it can be.
"It's something to be taken seriously, because it kills anywhere between, like, 15,000 and 30,000 people a year in the United States," he said. "Generally, that's really young children or very old folks, people that have more immune-comprised systems."
He said new strains of the flu emerge every year, most originating in Southeast Asia.
"In Asia, there's a lot of mixing between people and pigs and birds," he said, "and so, the strains genetically mutate every year, and we have different types coming out. And they have different characteristics; some are more deadly, some spread easier."
The most effective steps to prevent flu, Thoroughman said, are to wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and stay home when you are sick.