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Influenza is making a return to Montana

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Posted at 12:18 PM, Dec 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-14 14:24:37-05

BILLINGS — RiverStone Health reported Tuesday the first Yellowstone County influenza cases in more than a year were confirmed this week.

Cases of influenza A were confirmed in a woman in her 40s and in a young child, the health agency said in a press release. They are not related and neither one has been hospitalized.

Last fall and winter, there were no lab-confirmed cases of flu in Montana, and very few cases were reported nationwide. That does not mean there were no cases - only that none were lab-confirmed.

At that time, there were restrictions on public gatherings and building occupancy as well as widespread masking requirements to prevent the spread of COVID – measures that also prevented the spread of the flu. Many of those restrictions have now been lifted across the nation.

In Montana, 48 flu cases have been reported since October, according to the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services.

“The lab confirmation of two flu cases is a signal that everyone in our community needs to take precautions,” said John Felton, Yellowstone County health officer and CEO of RiverStone Health. “If you haven’t received your annual flu vaccination yet, I strongly encourage you to get vaccinated now. Shots are recommended for everyone age six months and older.”

“Influenza can result in serious illness, hospitalization and death,” Felton said. “More often, people who get the flu recover at home after suffering respiratory symptoms for several days. A flu vaccine can keep you from getting sick, missing work or missing school.”

From the DPHHS website:

Influenza is a contagious, upper-respiratory disease caused by different strains of influenza viruses. While many people use the imprecise term "flu" to describe 24 or 48 hour bouts of illness, real influenza can interfere with normal daily activities for as long as a week. Influenza is not a minor inconvenience. As many as 200,000 Americans are hospitalized because of it each year, and as many as 36,000 die of the disease or complications associated with it. Children under age 1, adults 65 or older and people suffering from certain medical conditions are at a higher risk of serious complications.

The DPHHS website also provides this overview of the 2020-2021 flu season in Montana:

  • During the 2020-2021 influenza season, no lab-confirmed influenza cases were reported in Montana. There were also no flu-related deaths or hospitalizations.
  • There were over 21,000 specimens tested at labs around the state. Of those only 2 rapid tests were reported as positive, and they did not confirm out at the Montana State Public Health Lab.
  • The prevention measures taken to reduce transmission of COVID-19 (masking, social distancing, handwashing) also helped prevent the transmission of influenza and RSV during the 2020–2021 respiratory disease season.

Flu vaccines are available from many medical clinics and pharmacies.