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Flu Hits Six Montana Counties

Providence Health and Services announced Wednesday that it is expanding behavioral health services in all nine of its primary care clinics in western Montana.

Health officials have recorded twelve cases of flu in six Montana counties: Yellowstone, Gallatin, Lewis and Clark, Missoula, Beaverhead, and Broadwater. Karl Milhon with the Department of Public Health says Montana's flu season typically doesn’t begin until October.

“This is a little early, about a month earlier than normal. So right now we're kind of enhancing our surveillance systems and trying to see if this is an indicator of an early season, or if this is just a blip.”

Two people came down with the milder B strain of the flu in August.  The rest are infected with the stronger Influenza A virus, which usually dominates the flu season through the winter months.

“What you're seeing is how it all begins in the country and in Montana, and this is a really good reminder to get vaccinated now.”

A lot of people who got vaccinated last year got the flu anyway, because it was only 13 percent effective against the H3N2 virus, which was the dominant strain. Bekki Wehner, an immunization program manager with the Montana Department of Public Health, says the current flu vaccine is stronger than last year’s against the most common type of flu virus expected, known as H3N2.

“The CDC is predicting a better match for the vaccine this year than last year. They were able to make some adjustments to the flu vaccine this year to make a better match for the way that the flu drifted last year. So we're anticipating it was too early in the season that we're going to get a much better match and people should stay better protected.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccines usually provide a 50 to 60 percent chance of avoiding the flu. The 2015 vaccine is widely available through doctors, pharmacies, and health clinics.  

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