With colder temperatures often come runny noses, sore throats and unfortunately, the flu. Families across South Dakota who are trying to get back into a normal routine following the holidays may not have taken the time to ensure that kids and parents alike are vaccinated for the flu this season.

This week, South Dakota was moved into the “widespread” flu classification by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), leading hospitals and businesses to take extra precautions. In total, eleven South Dakotans have died from the flu and the state has reported almost 600 cases of flu so far this season.

It’s time to take the flu seriously. I encourage all South Dakotans to not only get vaccinated, but to stay home from work or school if you have symptoms, such as a cough or fever. The typical incubation period for the flu is an average of two days and adults can be infectious for a week, starting with the day before symptoms began. Children can be contagious for even longer.

Flu vaccines protect individuals from the three flu strains predicted to be most popular that season. While the vaccine is still the best way to prevent the flu, antiviral drugs can also be a strong line of defense, as well as common sense health habits, such as covering a cough and consistent hand-washing. South Dakota has the highest vaccination rate in the country – with over half of our population receiving the vaccine during the 2011-2012 flu season! In fact, South Dakota received the Adult Immunization Coverage Award from the CDC in 2012.

I encourage South Dakotans to look at information provided by the South Dakota Department of Health or contact a local health care provider if you have any additional questions or concerns regarding the flu vaccine.

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