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South Dakota influenza activity levels classed 'high, widespread' as flu season hits early

Influenza activity levels read 'high' during a 6-day observation, classing South Dakota at a "widespread" stage, according to South Dakota Department of Health

12-21-22AveraHospitalWinter-1.jpg
Shown here is the Avera Queen of Peace Campus on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022, at Foster Street in Mitchell.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — The flu season is upon us.

“We’re seeing a lot of positive flu cases,” said Hilary Rockwell, chief medical officer for Avera Queen of Peace Hospital. “We’re mostly seeing it in outpatient facilities, like our clinics and urgent care.”

According to South Dakota Department of Health (SDDOH), influenza activity levels read "high" following a six-day observation, classing South Dakota at a "widespread" stage.

SDDOH reported that over 2,700 new confirmed cases of influenza were recorded through Dec. 4 -10, with a total of 6,753 confirmed cases and five deaths due to influenza just this season.

“We’ve seen a few (hospitalizations) for influenza in Mitchell,” Rockwell said. “Overall in the state, we’ve seen 275 cases, and I expect that number will be much higher this year since we’re at the beginning of the season and still going up in numbers.”

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According to SDDOH, the spike in cases is nearly five weeks early compared to 2021's flu season, with 18.01% of rapid antigen tests reading positive of the total 10,053 tests performed this season.

The big question: Why so many cases so early in the season?

“It just started earlier this year, we’re not exactly sure why,” Rockwell said. “The peak week last year was the first week of January.”

The unusually high amount of flu cases this early in the season is a common trend for viruses this year. Another virus, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), also hit the state fast, hard and early.

“We also had an early RSV season,” Rockwell noted. “A lot of viruses have a pretty consistent starting point, but it's not unusual to see them not follow a pattern.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes RSV as "a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms," noting that most patients recover within a few weeks but can be fatal in infants and the elderly.

“(The RSV season) has been happening for a couple of months already," Rockwell said. "Locally, we’ve had a couple cases of RSV and we’re seeing it most in daycares and schools. Pediatric patients are going to be the ones affected the most, so if your kiddo is sick, the best thing to do is to keep them at home.”

Symptoms for RSV can be similar to other seasonal viruses, but need closer professional attention, Rockwell said.

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“The symptoms are very much the same with COVID, influenza and RSV – fever, congestion and cough, sometimes diarrhea with COVID,” Rockwell said. “The usual treatment for both COVID and influenza is Tylenol, anti-congestants, fever-reducing medications and such. For RSV, however, kiddos are going to need supportive care."

Rockwell also noted that treatment for RSV typically requires that kids usually come in for treatment options like oxygen and fluids, which help to strengthen the child's body in order to fight off the infection.

She encourages anyone susceptible to getting the flu to take preventative measures like getting the flu shot, washing hands regularly, staying away from sick people and staying isolated if you do get sick.

“Get vaccinated,” Rockwell said. “Getting your vaccination decreases chances of getting sick and needing to be hospitalized, as well as shortens the length of how long you're sick for. Wash your hands, stay home when you are sick. It’s hard this time of year with all the holidays and such, but if you’re sick the best option is to stay away from people or mask up.”

For more information regarding the statewide influenza statistics, check out SDDOH's influenza surveillance page here.

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Related Topics: AVERA HEALTHMITCHELL
Cassie Williams joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2022. To get in contact with Cassie about potential stories, feel free to email her at cwilliams@mitchellrepublic.com.
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