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Montana records almost 1,000 new flu cases in early season spike

A gloved hand swabs a person's arm, prepping it for a shot.

An early spike in influenza cases is emerging in Montana. That’s in stark contrast to recent years when zero to few cases were reported at this time of the year.

The Montana Health Department’s most recent weekly snapshot shows an aggressive start to flu season. Almost 1,000 new influenza cases were reported between November 27 and December 3.

Fifty-two flu-related hospitalizations were reported during the same time. Health experts can’t precisely pin down why any given flu season is less or more severe than another, but they can speculate.

Devon Cozart is a state influenza epidemiologist with the state health department.

“What are we seeing this year? We could be seeing more social gatherings than we’ve seen in previous seasons, because COVID restrictions have eased,” Cozart says. “We’re also seeing less people mask, so we’re likely to see a more severe season because we’re not using the same precautions.”

Cozart says the Type-A influenza virus, which packs a wallop, is this year’s dominant strain.

Experts say with the holidays fast approaching this is the perfect time to get a flu shot if you haven’t already received one.

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