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SD will have to 'wait and see' about flu severity

South Dakota is gearing up for another long flu season. With the 2017-18 season's first lab-confirmed case reported in Lawrence County, the South Dakota Department of Health officials say residents should be prepared for anything. Along with the ...

Carrie Snyder / The Forum
Public health officials say there's still plenty of time to get a flu shot. Peak flu season usually arrives in January or February. Shown are immunization nurse Cheryl Wavrin of Fargo Cass Public Health, right, and Theresa Orecchia. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

South Dakota is gearing up for another long flu season.

With the 2017-18 season's first lab-confirmed case reported in Lawrence County, the South Dakota Department of Health officials say residents should be prepared for anything.

Along with the one lab-confirmed case, five rapid tests have come back positive for the flu - two of which were in Gregory County.

Confirmed cases are characterized by a "full-blown" set of tests, whereas the rapid test cases involve a less extensive round of tests that can be done in the doctor's office.

And though off to a slow start, it could pick up at any time, according to Colleen Winter, family and community health director for the DOH.

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Flu seasons fluctuate from year to year in severity and when it peaks, Winter said, and it's impossible to predict in advance.

The 2015-16 season totaled 2,043 lab-confirmed flu cases and 43 deaths, while the 2014-15 season had 1,703 lab-confirmed cases, but there were 63 influenza associated deaths.

The past two seasons have been especially strong compared to 2013-14 when 707 cases and 12 deaths were reported, and Winter said the DOH is working to reach numbers comparable to that year.

"What I can tell you about the flu this year is the vaccine is available in two different ways. What we've been told is they've been updated to better match the viruses from previous years to combat them," Winter said. "Now we just kind of wait and see."

With a season that spans October through May, Winter said common practices of hand washing and covering mouths and noses when sneezing can help prevent the spread of flu. But the best form of prevention is to get a flu shot, Winter said, adding that last flu season, 53.9 percent of South Dakotans got a flu vaccine, the second-highest vaccination rate in the nation.

"Now's the time to get the vaccine and it's the best way to protect yourself and your families," Winter said. "We're encouraging people to get vaccinated early in the fall, by the end of October, preferably."

A free flu vaccine clinic will be held from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. The event is free for all children from 6 months to 18 years old. Parental consent is required.

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