Flu season isn’t over: CDC, Montana health department warn of influenza, hepatitis A risks

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Flu season is still going strong even as the weather warms, and that warmer weather offers increased hepatitis A risk, but the Lincoln County Health Department has the vaccines local residents need to protect their health.

According to an alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March saw an increase nationwide in cases of influenza.

Lincoln County Public Health Nurse Trista Gilmore said that the final week of March had 17 reported cases of influenza in Lincoln County, with five resulting in hospitalization.

Gilmore noted that those numbers are for the entire county.

The warning from the CDC to state health departments stated that “the influenza season continues to be elevated and widespread, and that this year and recently there has been an upsurge in [influenza A] activity.”

The warning noted that the trend in Montana has been similar to the nationwide trend.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has also issued a caution regarding “widespread outbreaks of hepatitis A among people who use drugs and people experiencing homelessness across the United States.”

Gilmore said that those at risk may include a wider population than the word “homelessness” might imply to some.

“Not just the people that you see around town that are moving from place to place, but couch surfing is huge, with not just one person, but families even,” Gilmore said.

The real risk for hepatitis A comes down to hygiene, she said. So factors such as lack of clean water for drinking and washing, or people simply not having access to bathing facilities can be risk factors.

“And then as it gets warmer, there’s lots more families that come around that move from campsite to campsite as well, and then live like that for the whole summer,” she said.

Hepatitis A can be spread indirectly through contamination by fecal matter, or spread directly.

Additionally, someone who has come into contact with hepatitis A may go up to a month before they show any symptoms, Gilmore said. Those symptoms include nausea, stomach pain, general sickness and jaundice.

Gilmore said that she is not aware of an increase locally in hepatitis A cases.

However, for those who believe they could come into contact with the virus, the Lincoln County Health Department does offer vaccination.

Gilmore said that the vaccination can be covered by insurance, and is also available for those without insurance.

Gilmore said she also advises anyone at risk for hepatitis C — such as those who have engaged in intravenous drug use — to also get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B.

“Because it’s just protective of your liver. It’s just a good thing to do,” she said.

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