More flu, fewer flu deaths this year in South Dakota.

An updated report from the South Dakota Department of Health shows the number of confirmed influenza cases in the state increased 60 percent for this season over 2018.

The increase of cases is quite alarming to South Dakota health officials, with a new batch of 24 confirmed cases being confirmed in the most recent report as the flu season winds down. This flu season -- which runs from November through May -- there have been 9,531 cases (9,169 Influenza A cases and 362 cases of Influenza B). There were 5,978 cases of influenza during the 2017-18 flu season.

There have been 32,812 tests performed so far this season, and positive results for rapid antigen tests have been at a rate of 22.8 percent statewide. South Dakota Epidemiologist Dr. Joshua Clayton said the increase in lab-confirmed flu cases can be partially attributed to better testing becoming available in physicians' offices.

“In prior flu seasons, the main test used to identify whether a person was ill with influenza was the rapid antigen test,” Clayton said. “Unfortunately, many of those tests were not reliable during the early or late part of the flu season. … The rapid antigen tests were replaced by rapid molecular tests, which are much more reliable at identifying influenza throughout the influenza season.”

According to South Dakota health records, the number of recorded influenza cases reported  from two years ago has increased by 3,553 cases. There have been 41 deaths this year, a decrease from last year’s record of 73. The hospitalization rate has also taken a decrease in numbers from the last two years, being 965 from 2016-17 to 642 for 2018 to current.

Nationally, influenza continues to decrease. Influenza A viruses have been more commonly identified since late February. Small numbers of Influenza B continue to co-circulate.

Clayton describes the best way to prevent catching or spreading the disease is to “receive the influenza vaccine.”

“Vaccination is the cornerstone of influenza prevention,” he said. “Take general respiratory precautions to avoid influenza and other pathogens.”