Western Montana projected to have worst flu season in years


BUTTE, Mont. - Flu shots are being offered earlier this year. According to health officials the flu is showing up earlier in Western Montana this year than in previous years.

Montana Health Center physician assistant Jeannie Mehrens tells NBC Montana there have already been eight Type A influenza cases reported in Cascade County. Three of those cases were hospitalizations.

There have also been 30 cases of influenza reported throughout 10 counties in Montana before Oct. 6, including seven cases in Lewis and Clark County, four in Missoula County and three in Flathead County.

Butte resident Jim Griffin said he hasn't missed his flu shot in 20 years, and he has already started to feel flu symptoms.

"It wasn't a respiratory flu, but I had sore muscles, and I was completely devoid of energy. I think I had a touch of something," Griffin said.

Years ago the flu forced Griffin to be bedridden for seven days, and it's something he never wishes to get again.

"I couldn't even get out of bed. I was so sick from the flu. The problem I have is respiratory, so if that happens, I'm in trouble," he said.

That is one example of why Jeannie Mehrens said getting a flu shot this year is more important than ever.

"The projected flu for this year is to be worse than what it was in the past few years. A lot of that data comes out of the flu season data tracked in Australia. We're seeing cases in Montana earlier in the season," Mehrens said.

Mehrens tells NBC Montana the major symptoms of the flu are body aches, feeling worn down, nausea, vomiting and chest congestion.

She said one of the easiest ways to prevent the flu is by washing your hands and avoiding contact with anyone who has symptoms.

Mehrens said you can get a flu shot at any local pharmacy, your primary doctor and urgent care clinics.

For Griffin, it's something that's on his agenda.

Griffin said, "For anybody that's had the flu, they know how bad it can be. Doctor's orders -- get your flu shot!"

Mehrens tells NBC Montana the very young and elderly are most at risk for getting the flu.

Health officials say if you choose to get a flu shot you only need one dose each season. But children six months to eight years old may need two doses in the same flu season.

Western Montana Clinic physician Mae Bizby said some people have misconceptions about flu shots.

"The flu vaccine is an inactivated virus, so it's dead, which means that you can't get the flu from the vaccine itself," Bizby said. "Some people might have a sore arm or a little local reaction to the flu vaccine."

For more information on the flu vaccination and how to prevent it, click here.

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