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Even as Gallatin County reports dozens of COVID-19 cases every day, another viral, though less-infectious disease spread in similar ways has not shown up at all this season.

Gallatin County has had no confirmed cases of the flu this season, officials said, and the Montana Department of Health and Human Services website shows no confirmed cases have been reported statewide. Last year at this time, Montana had reported hundreds of influenza cases. There were over 11,000 cases and 41 deaths statewide due to the flu during the 2019-2020 season, according to DPHHS data.

Dr. Jessika Hinz, an infectious disease physician with Bozeman Health, said none of their providers have reported any flu cases so far. Measures that help slow the spread of COVID-19, like face masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing may be responsible, Hinz said.

“So the fact that it’s, it’s working to prevent or slow the transmission of SARS-COVID-2, all these measures, it only makes sense that it would slow the transmission of these potentially less infectious viruses like the influenza,” Hinz said. “It’s probably the only positive thing about the pandemic.”

Hinz said there may be less tests being done for the flu, because those with flu-like symptoms who test negative for the coronavirus may not bother to go back in to the doctor to get tested for the flu.

But at least in Gallatin County, weekly wastewater testing being done for COVID-19 in Bozeman, Big Sky, Belgrade, Three Forks and West Yellowstone has yet to yield any hits for the flu, county spokesperson Whitney Bermes said.

Public health officials nationwide emphasized the importance of flu shots in the late summer and early fall over concerns that a normal flu season combined with the COVID-19 pandemic would overwhelm hospitals.

Just at several drive-thru clinics this fall, Bozeman Health administered 3,295 vaccines in Bozeman, Belgrade and Big Sky, Bozeman Health spokesperson Lauren Brendel said.

Tracy Knoedler, Gallatin City-County Health Department Human Services Director, encouraged people to still get a flu shot if they haven’t done so yet.

Though there have been no confirmed cases, Hinz said the risk is still there. In a typical year, flu cases usually start to appear in late November, Hinz said, then ramp up through December and January. Influenza B tends to be more prevalent in February, Hinz said.

“We know that those viruses are still out there, influenza is not going to go away ever,” Hinz said. “We might still even have flu season.”

As the country still reels from the pandemic, which has killed more than 400,000 Americans, Hinz said she hopes the lessons learned from COVID-19 will be used during future flu seasons.

“I hope this makes people smarter,” Hinz said, referencing health measures like social distancing. “That would probably save so many lives each flu season if we took the current precautions that we take for every flu season starting November, and not giving in until probably, March.”

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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