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Officials predict another bad flu season, encourage vaccines

Health officials encourage people to get a flu vaccines.

It’s officially fall, which means cooler weather, changing leaves and flu season. Flathead County experienced a bad flu season last year, and health officials think this year could be the same.

“We’re going to have another year of a lot more flu and people getting sicker with it again,” Kalispell Regional Medical Center manager of infection prevention Laura Bermel said.

Last year the county saw 1,250 cases of the flu, more than 90 hospitalizations and nine flu-related deaths, Flathead City-County Health Department health officer Hillary Hanson said, noting it was “more severe” than past years.

Officials say one of the best ways to prevent the flu is the flu shot.

“The flu shot is not only to prevent the flu,” Hanson said. “A lot of times, if people get the flu despite the vaccine, they’ll find they have a less severe case of influenza.”

Experts don’t know what this season’s flu strain will be, but the vaccine is created through data and research. This year’s shot includes four strains of flu.

The county health department received the vaccines at the beginning of this month and has been distributing them.

“We give out probably between 10 and 30 vaccines a day,” Flathead City-County Health Department nurse Heather Murray said.

The health department is holding a flu shot clinic for the public at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on Oct. 2. Flu vaccines are also available at the department’s walk-in clinic.

The vaccine is for people age 6 months and older. Egg-free and preservative-free vaccines are also available at some places, Bermel said. She added there are special vaccines for certain populations who might need a stronger immunity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young children -- especially babies under 6 months old -- the elderly, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes, American Indians and Alaska Natives are at an increased risk of flu-related complications that can result in hospitalization or death.

If you’re sick with the flu Hanson said it’s important to stay home to avoid putting anyone else at risk.

“When you go to the grocery store when you’re ill, when you go to a school event when you’re ill, you’re putting others at risk doing so,” Hanson said.

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