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I’d like to update the community on influenza in Butte-Silver Bow. And then let’s talk measles.

First, the flu. As of last Friday, the total number of influenza cases in the county so far this year was 267, with 97 cases being Type A and 170 Type B. Ages of those who have contracted the influenza virus range from 3 months to 100 years.

This flu season Butte-Silver Bow has seen a total of nine hospitalizations — two of these individuals were not vaccinated, four were, and the immunization status of three is unknown. Of these hospitalizations, one Butte-Silver Bow individual over the age of 50 has died due to influenza-related complications. This individual’s vaccination status is unknown.

In comparison, at this same time last year — a simply devastating year for the flu locally and nationally — Butte-Silver Bow had already reached 461 cases. By the end of the 2017-18 season, the county had seen a total of 586 cases, 48 hospitalizations and 5 deaths.

“Keep in mind that influenza season will officially end in June and these numbers will continue to change,” our expert at the Health Department, Karen Maloughney, R.N., told me last week.

Now on to measles. As of Feb. 7, 101 cases of measles had been reported nationally, including in nearby Washington state, where 54 cases had been reported. The cases — also reported in New York state and Texas — have been linked by public health officials to travelers who brought measles back from other countries such as Israel and Ukraine, where large measles outbreaks are occurring.

According to information distributed by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department on Feb. 7, the Washington state outbreak in particular “increased concern about the likelihood of a measles case diagnosed in Montana.” The information, distributed over the state’s Health Alert Network (HAN), said public health officials in Montana had “been contacted by (the) Washington State Department of Health about a small number of Montana residents who may have been exposed to measles in Washington. To date, none have become symptomatic of measles but we expect these calls to continue as transmission continues to occur.”

The HAN message advised that medical providers and public health officials should “increase their level of suspicion” and “be prepared to act quickly and effectively” if measles is assumed.

Added the message: “Immunization still represents the most effective prevention measure that can be taken.”

DPHHS and the Health Department both have robust social media channels to spread messages such as the fact that immunization is an incredibly effective prevention measure. The state’s “Public Health in the 406” effort can be found on Facebook, while the Health Department’s page on Facebook is located at https://www.facebook.com/ButteSilverBowHealthDepartment/; the department’s Twitter account may be found at @HealthyButte.

On the “Public Health in the 406” site in particular, state officials are quick to poke holes in posts by anti-vaxxers who tend to provide citations from sources that can readily be debunked. “If you truly believe that the consensus of every reputable medical provider, every national government, the scientists and researchers that have dedicated their life to this issue, and the majority of the civilized world is wrong on immunizations, then we really can't help you,” a state official recently wrote to an anti-vaxxer who frequently posts. “However, the anti-vaccination propaganda you try to spread does cause real harm. I think we see examples of that right now in Washington State and New York State with a disease that once was eradicated in the United States reappearing because of sentiments like yours.”

Boom.

Thanks for allowing me to update you on flu and measles, and on how we in the public health field try to keep you and yours healthy.

Now get yourself and your children vaccinated.

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Karen Sullivan is Butte-Silver Bow Health Officer and Director of the Health Department. Her column, The Public’s Health, appears weekly on The Montana Standard’s Health page.

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