MISSOULA (AP) – The number of people hospitalized for influenza in Montana this winter is more than double what it was this time last year.

The latest influenza report from Montana’s Department of Health and Human Services says 643 Montana residents have been hospitalized as of March 4, since the start of the flu season in October.

At the end of flu season in April 2016 the agency reported 339 flu hospitalizations.

The agency reports 17 deaths in Montana since the start of the season, compared to 15 in 2016.

Health officials say the increase in hospitalizations in 2017 reflects an increase of influenza cases at some assisted-living facilities, among other factors.

“In a nursing home you’re always going to have one or two people who have the flu,” Missoula City-County Health Department infectious disease specialist Pam Whitney told KECI-TV in Missoula reports “Sometimes when you see an increase of cases in a nursing home it tends to spread.”

She says the key to containing the flu is controlling the spread.

The health department says the disease is most severely impacting those 65 and up.

Whitney said as long as health officials continue to see influenza cases they will keep recommending the vaccine.

The most recent health agency report released Friday indicates, despite the hospitalizations, influenza cases in nearly all Montana counties are in decline for the year.

The state’s flu status changed from widespread, which is the highest level, to regional, which is the second to highest level.

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