Montana health experts tell us this year’s flu virus is here early and packs a punch. They say now is the time to get a flu shot.
As of October 21, "We have had 42 confirmed cases of influenza," says Montana health department epidemiologist Stacey Anderson.
Anderson say 15 of Montana’s most populous counties have already reported at least one confirmed flu case. Those reports started rolling in last month.
"It is a little bit earlier than we normally start to see flu activity. Usually we’ll get isolated reports of cases this time of year but this is looking a little more Thanksgiving-ish to me."
This year’s predominant flu strain is known in medical circles as "H3N2."
Missoula City-County Health Department Infectious Disease Specialist, Pam Whitney, says that’s the variant that made the rounds during the southern hemisphere’s recent flu season.
"And Australia was calling it a bad flu season. That’s the strain we’re seeing. We’re anticipating a busy and maybe a more severe [season]. The "A" strain – the H3N2 – does typically cause more side effects, more problems than the "B" strain."
Health officials urge everyone to get a flu shot as soon as possible. It takes a good two weeks for it to take effect.
Influenza killed 56 Montanans last year.
Montana Public Health Department’s Bekki Wehner points out the vaccination is perfectly safe.
"The flu shot is actually not capable of giving you the flu. It’s manufactured in a way so that the virus is killed."
Epidemiologist Stacey Anderson notes that 16 Montanans have already been hospitalized with the flu.
"Of those that we have vaccine information on, none of them had received their seasonal flu shot," Anderson says.
Flu shots are now widely available at public health clinics, drug stores and even some retailers like CostCo.