The Missoula City County Health Department says flu cases are on the rise in western Montana, and could be connected to a different strain of the virus.

Health Promotion Coordinator Cindy Hotchkiss said the Missoula area has seen well over 100 cases of the flu so far this season.

"Here in Missoula County, we've seen over 120 cases of flu this season," Hotchkiss said. "We got our first cases in the last week of November, and we've definitely seen a jump in flu cases in the last month or so. We do tend to see more cases around the holidays because people travel and get together with families and friends which can lead to more contact with the flu virus."

Hotchkiss said there is one strain of flu that has come to the attention of healthcare professionals.

"There is a strain called the H2N3 version that we've been seeing," she said. "There's been a little bit of an antigenic shift, which means it's very close to the viruses covered by the current flu vaccine, but not exactly. So, we're still telling people to get vaccinated because this new strain is so close to the others that you're going to be covered anyway."

Hotchkiss said there have been no deaths reported due to the flu in Missoula County, but over a dozen have been hospitalized.

"So, it is very important to protect yourself as much as possible," she said. "Get your flu shot, wash your hands, cover your moth when you sneeze or cough and wash your hands often. It's also important to stay away from people who are sick, and if you become ill, to stay home from work or school."

According to the government website, the flu season usually peaks in January and February.

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