As a gray sky coughed wet snow over the Missoula valley on Thursday, the Montana State Public Health Lab announced that flu season has officially arrived in Missoula County.
Officials say that a Missoula elementary school child tested positive for a strain of flu known as Influenza A, type H3 - the same type identified in Bozeman a few weeks ago. The student has not traveled outside of Missoula in the past month; however, officials said they are not aware of an increased amount of flu-like illnesses in the county to date.
"It's too early to tell just how sick this strain will make people," said Vicki Dundas, nursing supervisor at the Missoula City-County Health Department. "I don't think it's of any greater concern than other typical flu seasons, but it's still something people should be mindful about."
According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity remains low overall in the United States, with most of this year's cases involving influenza B viruses. All of the viruses identified so far this year remain similar to the strains chosen for the 2010-11 flu vaccine, and are susceptible to the antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir.
Officials emphasize that it's not too late to get a flu shot to ward against infection. The Missoula City-County Health Department still has vaccine available for adults and children (call 258-4745 for information), as do a number of local private health care providers.
Beyond that, basic precautions apply, as always, said Dundas.
"We always recommend that people cover their coughs, don't cough around other people if possible and wash their hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose," said Dundas. "Stay home from work if you're feeling sick. Mostly it's about trying to avoid exposing others to what you might have."
Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358, firstname.lastname@example.org or on NickellBag.com.