A total of 145 new cases of influenza were reported during the first week of the new year, according to the most recent data from the Montana Health Department.
Stacey Anderson, the agency’s vaccine preventable disease epidemiologist, describes these cases as the 'tip of the iceberg'.
"Those who visited a doctor. They were sick, they went to a doctor and they got some sort of test to confirm a diagnosis of influenza. We know that there are probably many others out there who are also sick with flu but just hadn’t gone to the doctor to be tested," Anderson says.
The health department reports a total of 423 Montana flu cases so far this season, two flu-related fatalities and 34 hospitalizations.
“So far to date, it feels like we’re a little bit below average," Anderson says.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most illnesses nationally this season are being caused by a flu strain that leads to fewer hospitalizations and deaths compared to the kind of flu that dominated a year ago.
Montana’s Stacey Anderson says, "We all remember last year, it was quite an exceptional influenza year. So definitely, fewer cases than this time last year. For example, this time last year, for the first week of January, we had 468 cases reported to us. And we were at well over 1,500 cases for the entire season, so you can kind of see the difference there.”
Anderson says it’s not too late to get a flu shot.
“It’s never too late for the vaccine as long as flu is circulating – and we’re just headed into peak season, not only in Montana but around the country too. So especially if you’re doing a lot of traveling, it’s never too late to get a vaccine.”
The Independent Record reports St. Peter’s Health Medical Group in Helena will open a seasonal Cold, Cough and Flu Clinic Monday in response to an increase in cases.
The paper says last flu season, the clinic saw about 400 patients and was open for approximately one month during the height of that severe flu season.
According to the CDC an estimated 80,000 American died of flu and its complications last season – the disease’s highest death toll in at least four decades.