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State health officials encourage Montanans to prepare for respiratory illnesses

The first influenza death reported for 2023-2024 season was recently confirmed in Cascade County
DPHHS urging people to get influenza vaccine before flu season begins
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HELENA — State health officials are encouraging Montanans to take precautions to help protect against severe symptoms from COVID-19, influenza, pneumococcal pneumonia, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections.

The number of people ill due to respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, influenza, pneumococcal pneumonia, and RSV, is currently low across most of the United States but has increased in recent weeks.

    Montana has already begun seeing laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza and the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) is reporting the first influenza death of the 2023-2024 season. The adult who died last week was a resident of Cascade County.

    Health officials note it is early in the season to report a flu death as Montana has historically reported deaths due to influenza beginning in November. DPHHS advises that getting vaccinated is still the best way to be protected against serious outcomes of these diseases, such as hospitalization or death due to infection.

    Older adults, infants, and persons with weakened immune systems and other chronic conditions are at greatest risk for hospitalization and death due to infection, but DPHHS notes healthy children and adults can still experience severe disease.

    Vaccines are available for COVID-19, influenza, pneumococcal pneumonia, and RSV. To find vaccine locations, visit vaccines.gov, or contact their local health department or health care provider.

    • Updated COVID-19 vaccines are available for Montanans ages six months and older. 
    • Several flu vaccines are available for Montanans ages 6 months and older. One dose offers protection for the full season (October – June). 
    • Pneumococcal vaccines help protect against a deadly form of bacterial pneumonia, which is the most serious form of pneumococcal disease. Older persons and those with chronic conditions (e.g., diabetes, existing lung disease) are at higher risk for contracting this disease and experiencing serious health outcomes. 
    • Adults 60 years and older are eligible to receive RSV vaccines after discussion with their healthcare provider. 
    • Infants and young children under 24 months old may be eligible to receive a monoclonal antibody product that offers protection from severe RSV infection. 

    Montanans are encouraged to consult with a healthcare provider to determine their recommended vaccine options heading into this respiratory season. In addition to being vaccinated, Montanans can take everyday precautions to help stop the spread of respiratory illness.
    Those precautions include:

    • Stay home if you are experiencing symptoms of a respiratory illness. If you have a fever, stay home for at least 24 hours until after the fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medication, unless you need to seek medical care. 
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol in it. 
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. 
    • Cover your mouth with your inner elbow or a disposable tissue anytime you cough or sneeze. 
    • Avoid contact with people experiencing symptoms of a respiratory illness. 

    Symptoms of COVID-19, flu, RSV, and other respiratory illnesses are similar and may include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, body aches, and low energy. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, consult with your medical provider. Your provider may recommend that you get tested to confirm a diagnosis. Antiviral medications are available for certain individuals with influenza or COVID-19 infections.
    Anyone experiencing symptoms such as trouble breathing, shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new onset of confusion or disorientation, inability to stay awake, or other severe or concerning symptoms should seek immediate medical evaluation.

    DPHHS will release a new dashboard in October to keep the public informed of COVID-19, influenza, and RSV activity in Montana.