What Infectious Diseases Kentuckians Do (and Don't) Have to Really Worry About

Jan 27, 2015
Originally published on January 27, 2015 10:04 am

Ebola, MERS and polio are just a few infectious diseases that made international headlines in 2014.

Not all infections diseases should wear on the minds of most Kentuckians. But Dr.  Kraig Humbaugh, director of Kentucky’s division of epidemiology and health planning, said response plans for each potential outbreak is tailored to the disease.

“The first order of business is surveillance. Are we seeing cases of a particular disease in the state? And then if we are what are the demographics,” said Humbaugh, who is responsible for tracking infectious diseases throughout the state and preparing for potential outbreaks.

Humbaugh recently spoke to WFPL about a few viruses Kentuckians should prepare for and which diseases are of minimal concern.

Influenza

Flu deaths in Kentucky continues to rise. As of Wednesday, the death toll from the flu had gone to 32. More than 70 percent of the deaths reported are of people age 65 and older.

“This year, like in other years, where we have a non-pandemic flu season. .. unfortunately in those years we tend to see most hospitalizations and deaths occur in the elderly population,” he said.

Humbaugh said even though the current flu vaccine is not perfect, it’s still the best tool to prevent the flu in conjunction with washing hands, avoiding large crowds and coughing and sneezing in shirt sleeves.

In a press release Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the current influenza vaccine is 23 percent effective in reducing a person’s risk of catching the flu.

Measles

Speaking of large crowds. Recently, an outbreak of measles started after an unvaccinated woman became ill at Disneyland.

In 2014, the United States recorded its highest number of cases since the virus was declared eliminated in 2000. There were 644 cases and 23 outbreaks in the U.S. The CDC estimates an average of 220 cases of measles per year.

Humbaugh said Kentucky hasn’t had a reported case of measles in several years and encourages people to get the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine, commonly referred to as MMR.

“The measles vaccine is very effective. It’s not 100 percent, but it is very effective. Most people who have had the MMR series should not be susceptible to the measles. That is a very important way for us to prevent outbreaks of measles is to make sure that our population is well vaccinated or covered with the MMR vaccine,” he said.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, runny nose, sore eyes and small, white bumps in the mouth and a red blotchy rash as the illness progresses. Since there is no cure, treatment focuses on easing patients’ symptoms until the body’s immune system clears the infection.

Chikungunya

Chikingunya is a viral disease carried by mosquitoes who then bite and infect humans.

Chikingunya causes an abrupt onset of fever and joint pain. Muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash are also common symptoms. The disease is sometimes mistaken for dengue fever.

In 2014, there were 25 confirmed or probable cases of the disease in Kentucky, Humabugh said. He said last year was really the first time the state reported cases of the disease.

“Mosquitoes started carrying this virus in the Caribbean and we started to get cases of people who had traveled to the Caribbean who were infected who came to the mainlands in the U.S.,” Humbaugh said.

There is no specific drug to treat chikingunya therefore treatment focuses on relieving symptoms, but some patients may have long-term joint and muscle pain. Humbaugh said it rarely causes death.

He said that if you’re traveling to a place where the disease is endemic, avoid getting bit by mosquitoes.

“Wearing light colored, long clothing. Try to avoid being out when mosquitoes are most active, which are at dawn and dusk. And above all wear insect repellent,” Humbaugh said.

Enterovirus D68

Humbaugh said D68 is generally a seasonal virus that appears in the summer and in the fall. There are more than 100 non-polio enteroviruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is a contagious disease spread through coughing, sneezing and touching surfaces that have been contaminated.

He said the disease is not normally reported to the state health department but because there was a prevalence of the disease nationally, testing for the virus was done in Kentucky.

There were 27 confirmed cases last year.

“That is probably just a small number and a reflection of a much larger  number of cases that were never tested,” he said.

He said the virus affects people in the same way the cold does: fever, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and body and muscle aches.

Humbaugh said the virus is most severe in children and people with respiratory problems like asthma.

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