Yellowstone County has seen a rise in influenza cases since the new year began, where about 47 people have been hospitalized because of the flu, according to RiverStone Health.

To date, there have been 305 reported cases of influenza in Yellowstone County since the flu season started the first week of October. Nearly half of those cases were reported during the first two weeks of the new year, according to a press release from RiverStone Health.

About 47 county residents have been hospitalized because of the flu while no deaths have been reported. Last flu season, Yellowstone County had 1,931 reported cases, 188 hospitalizations and 2 deaths resulting from the flu. 

While these numbers aren't unusual for this time of year, the number of Influenza A and Influenza B cases for Yellowstone County are sitting at about 50/50, according to Kim Bailey, communicable disease program manager with RiverStone Health.

Usually, cases of the Influenza A strain circulate early in the flu season while Influenza B cases start showing up later in the season around February or March.

Bailey said she has no idea why there is nearly an equal amount of cases for each strain this season.

"I've never seen it happen before and I've been in the health department for almost 16 years," Bailey said. "I've never seen (Influenza B) circulate early in the season like this."

Bailey emphasized that it's not too late for people to get the flu immunization, since the cases usually peak around February and March. Box stores, clinics and certain pharmacies offer the flu shot during this time of year.

Those who are sick should stay home and keep their distance from others who are more vulnerable to the flu like infants and the elderly. Flu viruses are spread through the air from coughs or sneezes and through other surfaces and objects.

General assignment reporter Mari Hall's five favorite stories from 2019

General assignment reporter Mari Hall presents her five favorite stories of 2019.

I've spent most of my life in Billings. My family moved here when I was 4 years old and later I graduated from Skyview High School. When I left Billings to attend the University of Montana in Missoula, I drove away feeling as though I understood my hometown pretty well.

Even though I've only been with the Billings Gazette for about five months now, I've gotten to understand the city of Billings in new and unique ways.

I lived in the Heights most of my life and was stuck in my own little world. Now, as a reporter, I learn something new every day. I venture into scenes with officers, firefighters and emotional families and neighbors. I cover events full of new insights into other cultures, opinions, and viewpoints, and I attend meetings on Billings' inner workings of its government and city. I have come to realize that there is more to Billings than the quiet neighborhood I grew up in.

I hope to unravel more of what makes the city tick and cover stories that matter. The five stories I chose demonstrate some of that, with a story about a West End resident finding his home crushed by a boulder from the Rims, and a group of people from Ballantine helping homeowners repair hail storm damage before winter.

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