KALISPELL - Although it is only early December, Montana has seen its first influenza-related deaths with both occurring in the Flathead Valley.
The Flathead City-County Health Department reports that the peak season for influenza is December through February. But early into this year’s season, two Flathead County residents have already died. They are the first flu related deaths reported in Montana this year, and both were over the age of 65.
Both of the people who passed away were reportedly not vaccinated for influenza and their deaths fell during National Influenza Vaccination Week. The US Centers for Disease Control and the local health department are advising that the best way to fight the flu is to get the vaccination.
“Vaccination is hands down the best prevention against influenza, the CDC recommends that anyone six months of age or older receive the vaccination. And I think it’s important for people to recognize that it’s not just about keep yourself healthy but it’s also about keeping those that are around you healthy,” Flathead County Health Officer Hillary Hanson.
Health officials say that those who are at the highest risk for serious complications from influenza are people 65 years and older, children younger than five -- especially under the age of two -- people with chronic health conditions and pregnant women.
The Health Department reports that there have only been 25 reported cases of influenza in the Flathead so far, and Hanson says it is unusual to see a death this early in the flu season.
“We saw our first death in mid-January of last year. So, we are earlier than we saw last year. A lot of times we won’t see deaths until we have more cases in the community so to see two deaths with only 25 cases in the community is different than what we’ve seen in some past years,” says Hanson.
Hanson also wants to remind everyone to stay away from people as much as possible if you become ill.
“I know that can be really hard around the holidays when people want to visit families, but to recognize that if you are ill don’t go visit grandma, don’t go visit the new baby in the hospital. Make sure you are taking care of those around you by staying home," Hanson said.
Health officials caution that it may take up to two weeks for the vaccination to have an effect on the body.