Officials with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services are reporting an alarming rise in flu activity during the first three months of the official flu season.

KGVO News spoke with Devon Cozart, Communicable Disease Epidemiologist with DPHHS on Friday for details of the flu outbreak in Montana.

What Should be 150 Flu Cases this Early in the Season are now Over 1,000

“Currently, we're seeing a total of 8,221 cases so far this season for flu,” began Cozart. “The reason why that's so concerning is because that's a lot more flu cases than we normally see this time of year, unless we take an average from the last five flu seasons. So through the end of December, we normally see 150 total flu cases. However, right now we're sitting at over 1,000. That kind of puts into perspective, the amount of flu cases that we're seeing. It's both a severe increase and a very early increase in cases.”

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Adding to that concern is the number of flu cases being reported this early in the season.

“For the total number of cases over full flu seasons for the past five years, we see about 9,000, almost 10,000 cases. So even though we're only partway through the flu season, we're at almost what we see for the full entire flu season. So it's a pretty severe increase and like I said, it's really starting early this year.”

Flu Hospitalizations are also up Dramatically Statewide

Cozart said along with the increase in reported flu cases, the number of hospitalizations has also increased dramatically throughout the state.

“I can say for sure with flu that we're seeing a big spike in hospitalizations just like we are in cases,” she said. “So much so, that right now we're really seeing a spike in hospitalizations that's really unprecedented for the past five years. We're sitting at 408 hospitalizations that have been confirmed so far this season, and that is through December 31. Compare that to the average through December for the past five seasons at 88. We usually see around 669 total for flu season. So again, we're seeing this really early a massive spike in flu hospitalizations.”

Health Officials Strongly Urge Flu Vaccinations

Tricia Gardner, Immunization Section Supervisor for DPHHS emphasized the importance of getting a flu vaccination as quickly as possible to try to stem the tide of flu cases and hospitalizations.

“We are still reminding people that this can be a very severe illness and vaccines are one of the absolute best tools that we have in our arsenal to protect yourself against the flu, especially when it comes to severe illness or hospitalization,” said Gardner. “The vaccines are very effective at keeping people out of the hospital or from dying. So it's still just an absolutely necessary thing to get vaccinated.”

Cozart said the numbers provided are only the cases that have officially been reported, however, it’s common that many who have the flu never report the case to their doctor or their local health department.

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