Although it's only September, influenza has been detected in South Dakota, prompting a state health official to urge universal vaccination.
"We have already reported four confirmed cases of influenza, all children," said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist for the department. "Fortunately the vaccine is readily available this year and now is a good time to be vaccinated."
Kightlinger noted that 51.1 percent of South Dakotans over the age of 6 months were vaccinated against the flu during the 2011-2012 season, the highest rate in the nation.
Annual flu vaccination is recommended for everyone, but some groups are at higher risk for complications – pregnant women, people over 50 years and people with chronic medical conditions. Health-care workers and household contacts of high risk populations such as those with young infants in the household should especially be vaccinated.
Kightlinger encouraged parents to take advantage of the free flu vaccine the state offers for kids from six months to 18 years. Kids account for a significant number of flu cases and hospitalizations each year and also help spread the illness in the community. Vaccinating children protects them and the people around them.
South Dakotans can also prevent the spread of the flu by practicing the common sense measures of the department's "Stopping the flu starts with you" campaign:
Wash your hands often with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand gel if you can't wash;
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze;
Don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth;
Stay home if you're sick.
Influenza is a viral respiratory illness marked by the sudden onset of fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. It spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, sending the highly contagious virus into the air. Learn more at http://flu.sd.gov.