DPHHS: Take action to help prevent respiratory illnesses this winter
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News from DPHHS
MONTANA — Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) officials are reporting substantial influenza (flu) activity during the first three months of this current flu season, from September through December 2022, that has far exceeded the prior five-year averages.
Since the week of Sept. 25 through Dec. 31, 2022, there have been 408 influenza-associated hospitalizations reported to DPHHS, well above the five-year season average of 88 hospitalizations for that same time frame. The five-year seasonal average for hospitalizations for an entire flu season is 669.
Flu season usually peaks in February and lasts through May; however, it can be unpredictable. Overall, DPHHS officials have observed earlier and more severe flu activity throughout the state so far this season.
A vast majority of this season’s hospitalizations occurred in December. Adults over the age of 65 are at higher risk for hospitalization, and currently make up the largest proportion of hospitalized Montanans.
There have been eight flu-associated deaths so far this season and 8,221 reported cases. The number of reported flu cases this season is also much higher than the five-year average of 850 total cases during the same time last year. The total average of reported flu cases over the past five seasons is 9,930.
DPHHS is encouraging all eligible Montanans to take action and get vaccinated against the flu in order to decrease their risk of becoming ill.
The flu vaccine is the best form of protection against serious complications of influenza infection, including severe disease, hospitalization, and death. And, it provides protection throughout the entire season. The composition of the vaccine is reviewed and updated yearly to better match circulating viruses. Preliminary reports for this year show it to be a good match.
In addition to flu, COVID-19 continues to circulate and together these respiratory viruses put a significant strain on Montana’s healthcare system.
“By preventing severe respiratory disease and associated hospitalizations, we preserve hospital capacity and allow these facilities to care for the Montanans who need it most,” said Dr. Maggie Cook-Shimanek, acting DPHHS State Medical Officer. “In addition to getting vaccinated, everyday prevention steps such as staying home from work or school if you are sick, staying away from sick people, covering your cough, and washing your hands with soap and water can reduce the spread of germs.”
Recent weeks have shown an increase in cases, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions for COVID-related illness. There were 4,259 cases of COVID-19 reported between November 26 and December 23 of 2022, a 22% increase in cases compared to the previous four weeks. Montana averaged 70 active hospitalizations and nine ICU beds occupied a day due to COVID-19 between November 26 and December 23, a 19% and 13% increase compared to the previous four weeks, respectively.
During this same time period, there were 10 deaths due to COVID-19.
The bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccine is designed to protect against the original virus strain and Omicron variants of COVID-19. Omicron is the dominant COVID-19 variant that has been circulating in Montana over the past year. The bivalent booster vaccine is the best protection against COVID-19 and can help reduce the severity of illness for individuals who may become infected. For more information on COVID-19 in Montana, visit the DPHHS website.
The influenza and COVID-19 vaccines are readily available and can be administered at the same time to eligible individuals. It is important to remember that both the influenza and COVID-19 vaccines take about two weeks to provide protection.
Both the influenza and updated COVID-19 bivalent vaccines are available at doctor’s offices, county or tribal health departments, and many pharmacies. Visit: Vaccines.gov to find a location near you.
“Talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions about vaccines and to discuss which ones are right for you,” Dr. Cook-Shimanek said. “If you develop respiratory illness and have underlying health conditions that increase your risk for severe disease, ask your healthcare provider whether treatment is appropriate.”