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Flu cases slowly rise in South Dakota

Cases of influenza in South Dakota had a small spike last week, and a larger jump could be on the way. According to State Epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger, 29 new cases of the flu were reported last week, 17 more cases than any other week in the st...

Cases of influenza in South Dakota had a small spike last week, and a larger jump could be on the way.

According to State Epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger, 29 new cases of the flu were reported last week, 17 more cases than any other week in the state this season, according to numbers released Friday. Despite the relatively slow-moving flu season, Kightlinger said the slight increase could be a sign of a wider spread in the coming weeks.

"Don't worry, but be alert and be cautious," Kightlinger said.

In the most recent flu update, activity level for the virus rose from the local to regional level, and Kightlinger noted activity in the state could reach widespread levels like its neighbors Minnesota and North Dakota. In North Dakota, total cases reached 369 and total cases in Minnesota reached 245.

There has been only one case and hospitalization caused by the flu in Davison County

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The South Dakota Department of Health only confirms cases that have been put through a molecular analysis or growth culture test. Many times, a clinic will have to send a sample to Pierre or Sioux Falls to have one of these tests performed.

In the vast majority of cases, doctors will perform a quick test instead, but that may produce false positives and negatives on occasion. In many other cases, people who become sick choose to stay home instead of seeing a doctor, so there is no record of their illnesses at all.

Kightlinger said the low amount of flu cases in South Dakota this year is not unprecedented. With 78 confirmed cases by the third week of February, the 2015-2016 flu season is the slowest since 58 cases were reported by the same week in 2002-2003.

The reason for the low amount of cases in 2015-2016 could be attributed to a higher tolerance of the flu virus, Kightlinger said. Kightlinger said the dominant virus in 2014-2015 was a poor match for vaccines and people had low immunity to the new clone of the virus. The combination of low immunity and ill-suited vaccinations may have played a role in the 793 hospitalizations reported last year, which was about 350 more hospitalizations than any of the eight previous years.

With deaths, hospitalizations and confirmed cases down this season, Kightlinger said it's left him wondering why the virus has waited so long to circulate.

"This year the virus has not gained traction, which is good, but it's just kind of ominous because we know the virus is out there and it hits every year," Kightlinger said.

From 2012-2013 to 2014-2015, the virus' peak week occurred in early January, but Kightlinger expects a rise in circulation this year in the coming weeks. This would be more in line with development of the flu virus in years prior to 2012-2013.

With South Dakota's peak flu week likely upcoming, Kightlinger said it's not too late to get a flu shot and he offered several recommendations to avoid the flu.

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"You still need to practice good respiratory hygiene," Kightlinger said. "Don't be sneezing all over the place, and if you are sick, wash your hands often."

Kightlinger also urged people to keep their babies away from people sick with the flu and recommended people stay home when they are ill.

South Dakota is one of 18 states with regional flu activity.

Related Topics: HEALTH
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