LOUISVILLE, Ky (WDRB) -- This season the flu is now being called an “epidemic,” and health officials say it’s spreading in different ways.

On Wednesday, the Kentucky Department of Public Health reported there have been more cases of the flu this year than normal. The report notes Kentucky is in its sixth week of widespread flu activity with at least half the state reporting outbreaks.

Since the end of August, 65 people in Kentucky have died from the flu, eight of them in Metro Louisville.

A new study by the University of Maryland said the flu season can be spread just by breathing, not even with a cough or a sneeze. The droplets in the air can spread even when people speak.  

“[Particles] are also produced when you’re breathing out of your mouth," said Dr. Lori Caloia with the Louisville Metro Department of Health and Wellness. "Moisture is also coming as you’re taking a breath in and out. I don’t think the study reports were that surprising to me when I read them.”

The H3N2 virus first appeared early last fall, a few weeks earlier than viruses usually appear.

Dr. Paul Schulz, a Infectious Diseases Specialist with Norton Healthcare, said in past years it’s senior citizens and young children who see the most severe cases - but this year, it’s all ages.

“We worry about influenza transmission through what we call contact in droplet, so those are the protections we or the precautions we take in our hospitals,” Schulz said.

The H3N2 vaccine sometimes won’t prevent the flu and but can weaken it.

Health officials urge it’s still important to get the vaccine even if you’ve had the flu this season, because each year there are typically two or three strains.

“Even though people are seeing on the news or in articles about the vaccine not being as effective as previous years possibly, we still know the vaccine can protect significantly,” Caloia said.

The Health Department said it expects another 10 to 12 weeks of new cases until the flu begins to decrease.

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