HELENA (AP) — Flu outbreaks are spreading across Montana, with one death reported and 57 people hospitalized so far, a state health official said Friday.
Influenza cases have been reported in all but 18 of Montana's 56 counties, and the number of cases is expected to increase for at least a few more weeks, said Department of Public Health and Human Services spokesman Jon Ebelt.
"It does seem to be shaping up to be our worst flu season since 2009," he said.
Montana is one of 47 states where flu is considered widespread, in which more than half the state's counties are reporting cases. Only California, Mississippi and Hawaii have escaped the widespread category, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of Jan. 4, one Yellowstone County death has been attributed to the flu, a person Ebelt said was older than 65. He declined to identify the person or give additional details.
There have been 1,575 confirmed and suspected influenza cases across the state as of Jan. 5, and 57 people have been hospitalized, according to health department data.
Yellowstone County has the most confirmed and suspected influenza cases with 472. Silver Bow, Flathead and Lewis and Clark counties all have more than 100 cases.
No hospitals are under "substantially abnormal stress" due to the flu outbreak, though a few are restricting visitors or diverting patients for reasons that "may or may not be attributable to influenza," Ebelt said.
No shortages in flu vaccines have been reported, though the health department encouraged those who want to be vaccinated to call their provider, pharmacy or health department in advance to make sure the vaccine is available.
Kate Siegrist, the director of Health Services for Missoula City-County Health Department, said county health officials are keeping careful inventory of their vaccine supplies to ensure they don't fall short. Some providers have run low for vaccines for children, but the health department has been able to refer parents to other locations, she said.
"We ordered twice this week to make sure our stocks are up," she said.
While some people suffer minor complications from the flu, the elderly, infants and those with chronic health problems can experience complications that can lead to hospitalization and even death.
Symptoms can include fever, cough, runny nose, head and body aches and fatigue. Some people also suffer vomiting and diarrhea, and some develop pneumonia or other severe complications.
The flu season usually peaks in midwinter and lasts until May. Health officials said it is not too late to get vaccinated.