State health department urges vaccination as flu activity increases

People who've delayed getting vaccinated for flu may want to proceed now that flu virus activity is widespread in South Dakota, says a state health official.

 "We do encourage people to get vaccinated early in the season but it's still not too late to get immunized," said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist for the Department of Health. "The flu virus is likely to be with us for several weeks, if not months, so getting vaccinated now can provide important protection from the flu."

Kightlinger noted that this year's flu activity is occurring earlier and at higher levels than recent years, other than the 2009 pandemic. To date, South Dakota has reported 469 laboratory-confirmed cases of flu and 135 flu-related hospitalizations. There have also been nine deaths reported, all over the age of 75.

Annual flu vaccination is recommended for everyone, but some are at higher risk for complications – pregnant women, people older than 50 and people with chronic medical conditions. Health care workers and household contacts of high-risk populations such as those with young infants should also be vaccinated. Children are another high risk group, accounting for significant cases and hospitalizations each year and helping spread flu in the community. The department offers free flu vaccine for kids from six months to 18 years.

In addition to vaccination, to prevent the spread of the flu:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand gel ;
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze;
  • Don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth; and,
  • Stay home if you're sick.

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