Flu season ramps up in Flathead County

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In this Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, photo, certified pharmacy technician Peggy Gillespie fills antibiotics into a syringe for use as an I.V. push at ProMedica Toledo Hospital in Toledo, Ohio. A nasty flu season is hitting U.S. hospitals already scrambling to maintain patient care amid severe shortages of crucial sterile fluids, particularly saline solution needed to administer I.V. medicines and rehydrate patients. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The numbers are beginning to reflect a particularly severe influenza season in Flathead County.

Five influenza-related deaths have been reported in Flathead County. More than 300 cases of the flu have been confirmed, and over 40 people have been hospitalized with the illness, Flathead County Public Health Officer Hilary Hanson told the county commissioners on Monday.

And this year’s flu season has yet to peak in the Flathead, she said.

Hanson said long-term care facilities and assisted-living centers have been hit hard by the flu, with three care-facility outbreaks reported in December and two in January.

“That’s where we’re seeing the bulk of hospitalizations and deaths,” Hanson said.

Due to the number of flu cases in the county, the City-County Health Department is partnering with Kalispell Regional Healthcare to plan for a potential surge of flu cases handled by the local hospital emergency room, Hanson said.

“What Kalispell Regional is looking at is a facility on [the hospital] campus, but not their ER, where they would triage folks,” Hanson told the commissioners. “They want it close to the ER” so that patients with the most severe cases would be close to emergency care.

The H3N2 strain of the flu virus is the predominant strain this season, but the flu vaccine’s effectiveness offers only 30 percent protection, she said.

“If you’ve had a flu shot, the illness tends to be not be as severe,” Hanson added.

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