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South Dakota influenza report: 281 cases, 121 hospitalized, 3 deaths so far this season

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SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — Three South Dakotans have died from a flu outbreak that worsened during the past week, pushing the number of confirmed cases to nearly 300.

Two of the people who died were from Minnehaha County and one was from Hutchinson County. Two of them were over 65 and one was a 40-year-old Hartford man.

The state Health Department released its weekly summary Friday showing 281 confirmed cases in the state and 121 hospitalizations this season. The spread of the disease remains at "widespread," the highest level, and is considered a seasonal epidemic, said state epidemiologist Dr. Lon Kightlinger.

It's worse this year because of a "drift" strain of Influenza, he said. Unlike measles, which is a stable virus, influenza doesn't remain the same, so people's immune systems aren't used to it and it hits a lot harder, he said.

"It's always evolving, it's always changing. It's always trying to trick us. And this year it was detected that it had changed a bit and isn't the same strain that was put into the vaccine cocktail this year," Kightlinger said.

That means the shot might not be as effective as other years, but health experts won't know until after the season. Though the infection numbers are high in South Dakota, the state hasn't had any widespread outbreaks in schools or nursing homes, he said.

Because of the drift strain, even people not in a high-risk category who come down with the flu would likely benefit from anti-viral prescription drugs instead of waiting for the virus to go away without such medications that make the illness milder and shorter and reduce the chance of serious complications, Kightlinger said.

"It kills more people than Ebola. People need to take influenza seriously. And they need to protect themselves," he said.

That includes hand-washing, avoiding handshakes, limiting the exposure young babies have to other people and staying away from people who are sick, Kightlinger said. This strain "really seeks out the elderly," he said.

Flags east of Sioux Falls in Hartford flew at half-staff on Friday for the funeral of school counselor and firefighter Kieron "Kier" Murphy, who died last weekend of complications from the flu.

"I'm going to miss him so much, and the community of Hartford and West Central (School District) has lost a great friend," Paula Hawks, a state legislator who worked with Murphy for 10 years, told the Argus Leader. "Kieron was a very humble man who did what he was happy doing and didn't expect to be praised for it."


Online:

Weekly report: http://1.usa.gov/1EVqgm1

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