Montana’s flu season is widespread with a spike that began in late December.

Cases of the flu have been recorded in at least half the regions of the state with 198 new cases reported the week of Dec. 21, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

“Thirty-eight counties have reported at least one case of influenza,” according to the agency’s report.

The largest number of cases came from Gallatin County, with 66 people diagnosed with the contagious respiratory illness within a week.

According to the health department, the new cases haven’t flagged any outbreak alarms.

Since Montana’s flu season began in October, so far there have been 480 sick with the virus. In that time, 27 people have been hospitalized connected to the flu, eight of which happened in the last week included in the report.

Montana’s latest numbers fare better than much of the nation. The U.S. flu season is expected to continue for weeks.

“Seasonal influenza activity in the United States continues to increase and has been elevated for seven weeks,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weekly surveillance report.

The CDC has said the main way to avoid the flu is to get vaccinated. Health officials suggest everyone 6 months old and older get a flu vaccine each season.

While there are many different flu viruses, vaccines protect against the three or four viruses that research suggests will be most common. The CDC has also said data suggests even if someone catches the virus, the vaccine can reduce how sick someone gets.

Health officials have also said people sick with a flu-like illness should stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone except to get medical care.

So far this season, 170.7 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed in the nation.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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