'We've seen a pretty significant viral season and it's come earlier this year than previous years:' Yellowstone County medical providers seeing increase in flu and RSV

BILLINGS, Mont. - Health care providers in Montana are seeing a significant increase in flu and RSV cases this year compared to previous years.

"We've seen a pretty significant viral season and it's come earlier this year than previous years," St. Vincent Chief Medical Officer Christopher Spoja said.

This chart from RiverStone Health (page three, second graph) compares the last three years of emergency department visits in Yellowstone County for people who came in with a fever or chills, along with another symptom, like a cough. It shows an overall increase in 2022 versus the previous two years. Of the decline in the most recent week, Casey Page with RiverStone Health said, "We’re not sure why that ED surveillance percentage dropped so dramatically, but based on the number of people hospitalized with flu and RSV right now, we expect that to jump back up."

Dr. Spoja said they are seeing a lot of RSV in pediatric patients right now. He said they've seen a significant increase in those patients over the past week.

"We've definitely seen an increase in our RSV population, and it's come earlier this year. And specifically with pediatric patients having RSV- we're seeing it mostly on our general pediatric floor. A couple of pediatric ICU cases."
"The volume has definitely increased from previous years," he added. "And we are having to overflow some of our general pediatric patients into the pediatric ICU."
"Now our COVID numbers have remained relatively low, but we are still seeing a lot of visits to the emergency departments with respiratory illness," Registered Nurse with RiverStone Health Kelly Gardner said. "And what we're seeing is primarily flu in adults and then, RSV in kiddos."

The Montana Department of Health and Human Services said flu activity in Montana is widespread:

"Influenza activity increased statewide from Nov 20th – Nov 26th, 2022, with 713 new cases, 31 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths reported. Cases and hospitalizations have increased rapidly over the past few weeks, and both measures are higher than historically seen during this time of year. Weekly reported case counts for week 47 also exceeded the peak case count from the previous 2021-2022 influenza season."

A link to flu cases by county is available here (see pages two and three).

Dr. Spoja and R.N. Gardner reminded people to practice good hand hygiene, stay home when you're sick and consider getting the flu shot.

A link to national flu information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is available here.