BILLINGS — Last year, COVID-19 was on all our minds, but this year, it’s the flu that has families concerned.
The number of flu cases in Montana has tripled this year compared to last year around this time.
“Montana’s ranking one of the highest flu cases by the CDC as of right now,” said the owner of Billings-based Pharm406 Kyle Austin on Tuesday.
Austin has seen the impact the flu has had on the Billings area firsthand.
“Lot of positive tests going through our lab for flu, RSV and COVID,” said Austin.
In the graph above, orange represents this year’s flu season, which started in October. So far, Montana has seen upwards of 1,800 cases, triple the roughly 600 cases reported last year, which is in green.
“This year, we not only have had a higher number of cases both in new cases and hospitalizations, but these cases of flu have actually started much earlier than what would traditionally be in Billings,” said Dr. Neil Ku, epidemiologist at Billings Clinic.
Yellowstone County alone has seen over 1,500 flu cases since September, and influenza has sent nearly 100 people to the hospital. Three Yellowstone County residents have died.
“This year we’re seeing more hospitalizations, and many of those have not been vaccinated,” Ku said.
He believes COVID-19 didn’t help and said many patients now seem reluctant to get vaccines.
Back at Pharm406, Austin believes it’s only going to get worse, especially following the holidays when so many gathered together.
“I think the flu’s just getting started and ramped up because obviously we usually see more flu in February and March,” said Austin.
And Ku believes we’ll see be seeing those reported cases peak shortly.
“Later this week, or early part of next week, we’re going to start seeing likely a rise in the reported number of cases as well as hospitalizations,” said Dr. Ku.