‘Tis the season for colds, flu and other nasty respiratory diseases, and the Missoula City County Health Department is keeping a close eye on the many and various illnesses that can affect your family.

Director Ellen Leahy provided an update to KGVO News on Friday.

“There are all sorts of respiratory problems out there this time of year,” said Leahy. “That includes flu, a couple cases of pertussis, and a lot of unidentified viruses out there. We are still on the upward trend with influenza, which we would be expecting at this time of year. All the information about the number of flu cases goes to the state, and then they report how many hospitalizations we’ve actually had.”

Leahy said the flu can hit hard and fast.

“That being said, it can start with the same symptoms that so many other respiratory illnesses start with,” she said. “You start to feel ill, you cough and sneeze, get a runny nose and sore throat, so on the one hand you don’t just want to ignore it, and on the other hand, you don’t want to rush into the doctor. If you don’t already have the flu shot, your chances are greater that you’re going to be made sicker by the flu. Now, if it does turn out to be the flu, there are now anti-virals, and if you’re treated with them in the very early days of the disease, they can be effective in limiting the symptoms.”

Leahy says a visit to your healthcare provider may be prudent, no matter what the problem may be.

“If it isn’t the flu, it may be something else that is treatable, or you may have your healthcare provider rule out that it’s not flu, or pertussis, or respiratory syncytial virus, so that you can understand what the normal course of the disease would look like,” she said. “However, a lot of that can’t be known until you’ve actually gone it to see your healthcare provider.”

Leahy, remembering last year’s pertussis outbreak, described the symptoms of this bacterial infection.

“Pertussis can start with the same symptoms as influenza, but it doesn’t generally hit as hard as the flu, so it’s a little more insidious,” she said. “You think you’ve got a cold, and then a minor cough sets in and it takes awhile before you actually get that whooping cough, and by that time you’re pretty far down the pike. If you don’t get the antibiotics that can stop that particular bacteria then you could be sick for a very long time, and you’ll also be contagious for a long time, so it really takes a medical expert, a diagnostician, to sort this out for you.”

Leahy said to be proactive when illness strikes. See your healthcare provider for the correct diagnosis and get the treatment you need as soon as possible.

“You can drop in to the Missoula City County Health Department,” she said. “It’s not too late to get a flu shot or a pertussis vaccination, and your healthcare provider can advise you on what you’ll need.”