Map of confirmed flu cases

As the influenza season kicks off across the country, Rapid City is so far coughing and aching worse than any other South Dakota city.

The Department of Health said Monday that preliminary tests have recorded 131 cases of influenza in the state as of Dec. 14 — with a disproportionate number in Rapid City.

Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist, said seasonal flu outbreaks were highly erratic. In South Dakota, they usually began in either Rapid City or Sioux Falls before spreading across the state.

"Hopefully, Rapid City can get it over with early," he said.

So far there has been only one death in South Dakota this season. Kightlinger said that person passed away in Minnehaha County in October and was between 70 and 79 years of age.

The flu season typically runs from October to March, peaking in February. Last year's season began earlier and peaked in January, but this year is more closely following the traditional pattern.

"The worst is yet to come," Kightlinger said. "So hold on to your seat."

Thirty-eight people died from influenza in South Dakota last year. That was an unusually high number for the state, which usually see about 21 deaths in a season.

Kightlinger said that high death rate was because last season's strain was particularly virulent. While this year's is milder, he said it was still important that people get vaccinated, particularly elderly and young people.

Of the 38 who died last season, he said, 34 were older than 65.

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Kightlinger said because it is not safe for babies younger than six months to get the vaccination, it was particularly important that families kept them at home. Last season, a three-week old baby died from the flu.

David Klocke, chief medical officer of Regional Health, said in addition to getting the vaccination, people should wash their hands frequently and cover their mouths when they cough.

"Those are still some of the best ways to prevent any infection," he said.

Klocke said people should also be wary of confusing the flu with symptoms of the common cold, like a lingering sore throat and runny nose. He said the flu is distinctive because it hits hard and fast, with symptoms including fevers, aches, and coughing that usually leave a person bedridden.

Klocke said most healthy people will recover from the flu with little difficulty, but people should consider medical attention if they have an existing medical condition or have particularly severe symptoms, like an uncontrollable fever, shortness of breath, or weakness in the limbs that leaves a person unable to walk or stand.

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