Local and state public health officials are seeing an increase in influenza activity across the state, with nearly 200 new cases, 40 hospitalizations, and several outbreaks reported over the past two weeks.
Reported cases are slightly higher than this time last year; however, influenza activity typically does increase in December. Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) officials are encouraging all Montanans to take some precautions when traveling this holiday season.
Influenza is a respiratory illness with symptoms that may include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Influenza affects millions across the United States each year. In Montana, the flu season usually peaks in January and lasts through May; however, flu outbreaks can be unpredictable. The influenza vaccine is the best form of prevention against the flu and provides protection throughout the entire flu season.
Influenza vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctor visits, missed work or school, but also can prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. During the 2016-2017 flu season, DPHHS recorded 829 hospitalizations and 56 deaths related to influenza.
“The influenza vaccine protects against multiple strains of flu,” said Stacey Anderson of the DPHHS Communicable Disease Epidemiology section. “Even if the vaccine may not prevent every case of influenza, the evidence shows that getting a flu shot still can prevent severe illness and hospitalization. The vaccine also provides protection against other strains that circulate during the season.”
Anderson also states that getting the vaccine not only helps the individual, but can help keep others healthy as well. “Everyone is at risk for complications of the flu,” she said. “It’s not too late to get vaccinated, and the vaccine will help not only you, but protect those around you as well.”
In addition to getting the flu vaccine, public health officials recommend the following, especially during the holiday travel season:
• Avoid contact with sick people
• Stay at home when you are sick
• Cover your cough
• Wash your hands with soap and water to reduce the spread of germs
• Clean and disinfect surfaces regularly
• If you do get the flu, talk with your healthcare provider to consider antiviral treatment
More information can be found at the DPHHS website: www.flu.mt.gov