Girl with the FluInfluenza activity is widespread in Montana with half of the counties reporting confirmed cases, state public health officials said today.

Influenza-related hospitalizations across the state have also increased. As of January 4, 2014 there have been 101 hospitalizations reported this season, with over half in the last two weeks. Further, one death from complications of influenza was reported last week in a Hill County resident. DPHHS influenza surveillance for the 2013-14 season officially began on October 1, 2013.

“It is important that all individuals older than six months get vaccinated to protect themselves and others,” said DPHHS Director Richard Opper. “Pharmacies and health departments still have vaccine and getting vaccinated is the single most important thing you can do to prevent influenza and its complications.”

The virus responsible for cases this year is the same H1N1 strain that circulated during the 2009 season. The current vaccine includes protection against H1N1 as well as other types of influenza expected to circulate. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has received a number of reports of severe illness among young and middle-aged adults and strongly encourages those in these age groups to be vaccinated.

As Montana enters the most active part of the influenza season, public health officials are offering the following advice to keep yourself and your family healthy:

- Get vaccinated. Protect yourself and others by getting vaccinated now.

- If you are ill, stay home from work or school. CDC recommends that you or your child stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.

- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.  Cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm if you have no other choice.

- Washing your hands often will help protect you from viruses like influenza. Soap and water should be your first choice, but if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Viruses are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with viruses and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

- If you get sick, ask your healthcare provider if antiviral drugs are right for you. They can prevent serious flu complications like pneumonia. For people with a high risk medical condition, treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having milder illness instead of very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.

For more information regarding vaccination and the impact of influenza during the 2013/2014 season, please visit the DPHHS website for influenza data, vaccine and prevention information at www.dphhs.mt.gov

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