By JENNY BRYAN/Montana State News

Tragedy struck Billings when a 9-year-old girl died Monday after being diagnosed with swine flu.

Although the definite cause of death is still unclear, parents and students throughout the city are on alert for health risks.

According to the Mayo Clinic, H1N1 also known as swine flu first appeared in April 2009 and has never completely dispersed. Despite popular belief the type A influenza is transmitted between people, not pigs.

The Center for Disease Control’s website reported that in the region of the country that includes Montana, along with five other states, there have been 1,502 cases of the swine flu since Oct 4, 2015.

However, according to an interview with the Billings Gazette, John Felton, the CEO of Riverstone Health said, “We are not aware of any [health] threat to anyone.”

Yet the fear remains. Poly Drive Elementary, where the girl attended school, underwent a thorough cleaning, and on Tuesday a School District 2 crisis team visited the students and staff to offer counseling.

“It’s not something you think about until something like this happens,” said Sheena Janskovitch, the mother of another fifth-grade student in that school district. “It’s so sad.”

The event brings the debate surrounding vaccines to the forefront of the public’s attention. According to Riverstone health, the flu vaccine this year included the four most common strains of the flu, including H1N1.

“I think you definitely need to get the vaccinations no matter what. Look at what happened. You can never know what to expect,” Janskovitch said.

While Riverstone Health assured the city that there is nothing to fear, they still advise everyone to get their flu shot and to be aware of the symptoms of the sickness.

The Mayo Clinic’s website states that common symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, fatigue, and nausea. These symptoms can occur one to three days after exposure to the virus.

Antiviral drugs can be administered to those infected with the flu, and they can make the sickness more mild and shorten its duration. These medicines are most effective if prescribed within two days of getting sick.

– Edited by Allison Erwin

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