DPHHS Reports Sharp Increase in Influenza-Related Hospitalizations

State health officials report that as of January 11, 2014 there have been 156 Montanans hospitalized for influenza-related conditions so far this flu season.

Most of these hospitalizations are recent, as 139 of them have occurred since December 15. These numbers reflect DPHHS influenza surveillance for the 2013-2014 season, which officially began on October 1, 2013.

“Many of these hospitalizations could have been prevented since a majority of these people were not vaccinated against influenza,” said Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Director Richard Opper. “However, it’s not too late to get the vaccine. It’s readily available in Montana.”

In 2013, Governor Steve Bullock and Director Opper related the “Big Sky. New Horizons.” plan to improve the health of Montanans. The plan seeks to increase the number of Montanans who receive annual flu shots from 34 percent to 60 percent.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted the same H1N1 subtype of seasonal influenza, as seen in 2009, is causing the majority of influenza cases. CDC also reported that less than half of Americans were vaccinated against influenza during the 2012-2013 influenza season.

“Influenza vaccination is recommended for all persons older than age six months,” said Bekki Wehner, DPHHS Immunization Program supervisor. “It’s the best way to prevent influenza.”

Wehner states it’s especially important for persons at higher risk for influenza-related hospitalization or death to receive the influenza vaccine. Persons at high risk of influenza complications include adults 65 years of age or older, pregnant women, and persons with certain chronic health conditions.

Fortunately, getting the influenza vaccine is more convenient than ever. CCHD provides influenza vaccinations four days a week, with no appointment necessary. For more information, visit the CCHD Immunizations Program page.

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