Although flu season usually doesn’t begin until October, Montana has had early influenza reports from six counties: Yellowstone, Gallatin, Lewis and Clark, Missoula, Beaverhead and Broadwater Counties, according to state health officials.

Most of the early cases can be traced to travelers who have returned to Montana with the illness but some local transmission is now occurring. With local transmission occurring, it is important to get vaccinated against influenza now, state health officials urged in a news release.

Influenza can be serious. Last season, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) recorded 608 hospitalizations and 24 deaths related to influenza, according to Jon Ebelt, public information officers for DPHHS.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent influenza from affecting you and your family. State, tribal and local public health authorities indicate vaccine is widely available and recommend taking advantage of the vaccine before additional cases increase your risk.

Influenza vaccination is safe and is recommended for everyone older than six months, according to state health officials. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctor visits, missed work or school as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.

Individuals seeking vaccine have many options beyond the typical shot including a high dose flu shot approved for people 65 and older, a “short needle” intradermal flu shot approved for people 18 through 64 years of age, and nasal-spray vaccine. Depending on brand, these vaccines protect against three or four influenza strains. Public health officials recommend Montanans consult with their healthcare provider regarding the best option.

“It’s time to get a jump on influenza,” said DPHHS Director Richard Opper. “People should get vaccinated every year, as the circulating viruses and vaccines change. This year’s vaccine has been updated to address what is expected to circulate and we urge you to get immunized now. With the options available, getting vaccinated is easier than ever. Getting the flu vaccine will help you stay healthy this winter.”

The vaccination lasts throughout the entire flu season, even when vaccine is given in early fall. A new dose is needed every year to keep up active defense against changing viruses.

“Individuals with asthma, diabetes, other chronic medical conditions, the elderly, pregnant women and young children can become very ill if infected by influenza,” said Bekki Wehner, DPHHS Immunization Program manager. “In addition to protecting yourself, getting vaccinated can protect others around you who may be at high-risk of complications.” Officials add that it is very important for health care providers and other caregivers to get vaccinated in order to protect the vulnerable populations they work with.

It takes two weeks before the vaccine can stop flu in your body. People wanting to get immunized, or have their children vaccinated, should consult their health care provider. Vaccinations are available at doctor offices, county or tribal health departments, and many pharmacies.

While, vaccination is the first line of defense against influenza; other preventive measures can help stop the spread of germs as well. Remember to wash your hands often with soap and water, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and limit contact with others when you are sick.

More information can be found at the DPHHS web site.