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Flu numbers in SD double last year's totals

PIERRE (AP) -- South Dakota is being hit hard by the flu this season, with cases, hospitalizations and deaths about double least season's totals.

There have been nearly 950 confirmed cases of influenza in South Dakota this season, more than 330 hospitalizations and 36 deaths, according to the Health Department. Totals from the 2011-2012 flu season were 505 cases, 164 hospitalizations and 17 deaths.

"It's been a worse year this year by anybody's measuring stick," State Epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger told the media.

This year's flu vaccine isn't working nearly as well as health workers had hoped it would, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"What they found is the vaccine this year was overall about 62 percent" successful, Kightlinger said. "If you had a hundred people and you vaccinated all of them and coughed in all their faces and exposed them to influenza, 62 of the hundred would not get sick, but 38 of them would have some sort of infection.

"That's not good news," he said. "We'd like in the neighborhood of 99 percent (successful), which is what we're used to seeing in the measles vaccine, for example,"

Every disease and every vaccine presents special challenges, and influenza is especially difficult to fight, according to Kightlinger.

"The virus is always evolving, always mutating, always changing," Kightlinger said.

This year's flu season is past its peak but it isn't over. The season typically begins in October and lasts until April or May.

"This is not a trivial disease. It's a bad disease. And since it hits every year, and it's common, people want to minimize it," Kightlinger said.

The vaccine is still the best weapon against the flu, he said.