Ravalli Co. sees 63 confirmed flu cases, 1 death

Dr. Lawrence Brouwer said flu cases appear to be more severe this year. He said the flu vaccine is only offering partial coverage. But he advises getting the flu shot because even if you do get sick you are less likely to need hospitalization and are less likely to die.

As we reach the peak of winter Montana has moved deep into flu season. The Montana Department of Health and Human Services reports 18 people in Montana have died from the flu. One of those cases came from Ravalli County.

The department reports there have been more than 1,900 cases reported and 304 hospitalizations.

In the Bitterroot there have been 63 cases with 17 hospitalizations.

Ravalli County Public Health Director Angie Allen stresses those are the laboratory-confirmed cases reported to the health department.

"It's kind of like looking at the tip of the iceberg," she said. "There are people out there who could have the flu or flu-like symptoms that aren't being diagnosed or reported to us."

Allen said the flu is especially "taking a hit" on the very young and older people.

The Centers for Disease Control said the vaccine this year is only about 30 percent effective.

But people, especially those who are at high risk, including the young and elderly are encouraged to get their shots.

At Ravalli Family Medicine in Hamilton Dr. Lawrence Brouwer has seen a high number of flu cases coming through his office. He said it appears to be more severe than in past years.

The doctor said the vaccine is not covering one of the flu strains that is prevalent.

"We are seeing people through the office," he said, "that have been immunized, and still have flu-like symptoms or have the flu."

At Ravalli Family Medicine about 10 people a day are coming in with symptoms of the flu and are being tested, and about two of those are testing positive.

Brouwer said even though coverage by the vaccine isn't as high as it should be he still recommends people get their shots.

"People who are immunized are less likely to be hospitalized," he said, "and are less likely to die from influenza."

On Friday Brouwer was doing a follow-up examination on Josef Heuser on another health matter. Heuser said even though the doctor has advised him to get a flu shot he has decided not to, at least for now.

Heuser, 81, said he has been "free of the flu" but is keeping an open mind about getting the shot.

"I would if it was necessary," he said, "and so far it hasn't been necessary."

But another patient at the clinic said she always gets her flu shot. Cindy Parssinen said even if the vaccination doesn't offer full coverage it's some protection, and she's careful about protecting herself in other ways.

"I wash my hands," said Parssinen. "You have to eat healthy, rinse your vegetables and sanitize when you go in and out of buildings."

Parssinen said she hasn't had the flu.

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