Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has reported the first death from the flu this season.

KGVO News spoke to Program Manager for Communicable Disease for Yellowstone County Kelly Gardner on Thursday about the first recorded death from the flu this season.

The First Death from the Flu was an Elderly Patient from Billings

“The patient was older and was unvaccinated and died in a hospital locally here in Billings,” began Gardner, a registered nurse. “The flu can cause severe illness in anyone, but it’s more likely to cause severe illness in the very old and the very young. But there have been anywhere from 12,000 to 52,000 deaths annually in the United States from flu.”

Gardner said the flu is responsible for many deaths and hospitalizations each season.

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The Flu Claims Thousands of Lives Each Year in the U.S.

“So it does affect thousands and thousands of people as far as deaths go, and then hundreds of thousands of people who end up hospitalized, and of course, that's a burden for them,” she said. “It's interrupting their life; it’s costly, and you know, especially if those people are younger and maybe have a family, there are a lot of implications to that. So it is a huge concern every year.”

Gardner said the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are similar to start, but are caused by different viruses.

Flu Symptoms can Mirror COVID 19 but they are very Different Viruses

“The flu is caused by influenza,” she said. “There are several primary strains of influenza that we see more often than not here in the United States. Those are two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B, and those are the ones that we vaccinate against and that we keep our eye on generally. And then, of course, COVID is caused by the SARS COVID 2 virus, which is a new virus as far as we are aware, as of 2019.”

Gardner said getting the flu can be inconvenient, so it’s worth getting a flu vaccination to avoid getting sick.

“Most people will be just fine, although it does typically take people out of commission for about 24 or 48 hours,” she said. “But generally in less than a week people can fully recover from the flu, depending on the severity of their symptoms, but the majority of people will be fine. Some people, if they already have maybe a chronic respiratory illness or other chronic illnesses, they are at more risk of having to be hospitalized. Again, the risk of death is low but we always encourage people to get vaccinated because that risk is never zero.”

Gardner said the initial symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are similar, but the treatments are very different. With a positive COVID test, the patient is required to stay home for at least five days and then test again. If the second test is negative it is advised that they wear a mask and take precautions to keep from spreading the virus.

Answers to 25 common COVID-19 vaccine questions

Vaccinations for COVID-19 began being administered in the U.S. on Dec. 14, 2020. The quick rollout came a little more than a year after the virus was first identified in November 2019. The impressive speed with which vaccines were developed has also left a lot of people with a lot of questions. The questions range from the practical—how will I get vaccinated?—to the scientific—how do these vaccines even work?

Keep reading to discover answers to 25 common COVID-19 vaccine questions.

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