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Health experts warn of a severe flu season, urge Montanans to get vaccinated

Flu season sign and a thermometer
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Early indicators have state public health officials bracing for what could be a significant influenza season. As Edward O’Brien reports, Montanans are urged to get the flu shot as soon as possible.

Australia is emerging from its worst influenza season in five years. Flu season there arrived earlier and hit harder than normal. The southern hemisphere’s flu trends can sometimes be a harbinger of what the United States may face.

Montana Health Department influenza epidemiologist, Devon Cozart, says public health officials are bracing for the possibility of a severe flu season this fall and winter.

“This is especially true when you do consider the last two flu seasons we had here in Montana where activity was very minimal compared to previous seasons. We may be more susceptible this season to influenza infection, especially in young children whose immune systems may not have strong immunity to the flu virus yet.”

Health Department Immunization Section Supervisor Trisha Gardner is urging Montanans to get their flu shot in the coming weeks.

“The recommendation is really September, October to receive those vaccines – particularly by the end of October to get those in your system would be ideal.”

But Gardner adds if you can’t make that deadline, a little late is far better than no flu vaccine at all. She says it’s perfectly safe to simultaneously get the new COVID-19 Omicron bivalent booster and the flu shot.

Health officials say frequent hand washing, covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands and staying away from work when sick, also helps prevent the spread of illness.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at edward.obrien@umt.edu.