With 1,427 confirmed cases, 238 hospitalizations and 15 deaths so far in 2018, this flu season has been a growing and widespread issue in South Dakota.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the 2017-2018 flu season started early, in November. In late December and early January, influenza broke out almost everywhere in the United States at the same time, making this year’s epidemic particularly powerful.
Amanda Duxbury, M.D., a family medicine physician at Sanford Vermillion Medical Center, said this year’s influenza A strain, H3N2, was difficult to predict.
“I think the flu has been more difficult because this particular strain of influenza is typically one of the more potent strains,” Duxbury said. “It can morph and change very quickly. The virus is changing so rapidly that (the vaccine) isn’t quite as effective as the CDC hoped it would be.”
Although the unpredictability of the virus has made the vaccine less effective, Duxbury said she still advocates for her patients to get a flu shot.
“I know that there’s a lot of talk that the flu shot is only 10 percent or 20 percent effective, but I still advocate for it because it still does typically decrease the intensity of symptoms,” Duxbury said. “There’s good evidence that it decreases death from the flu and decreases the length a hospital stay if you do become that sick.”
Mary Merrigan, director of public relations at Sanford, said vaccines are not only available in the fall, and a vaccine can last up to 12 months.
“We still have vaccines here at the clinic,” Merrigan said. “It’s not too late for anyone to get immunized.”
In addition to Sanford, students can also get free influenza vaccinations from the Vermillion Walmart.
Dawn Warren, director of USD’s Rapid City nursing program, said she strongly encourages receiving a flu shot.
“To anyone who hasn’t had the vaccine yet, get it,” Warren said.
On the USD Rapid City campus, all School of Health Science students and faculty are required to receive a flu vaccination. Warren also said there have been zero cases of the flu at the Rapid City campus.“I attribute that totally to the fact that they have had the shot, and because as nurses, they are extremely diligent about handwashing,” Warren said.
In Vermillion, nursing students participate in flu shot clinics where they help administer the vaccine. Sanford Vermillion Hospital sponsored a clinic in the fall.
Duxbury said the flu can be spread easily in a residence hall setting, and students should take extra precaution.
“It can be more common in areas where people are living closer together,” Duxbury said. “Places like dorm rooms or shopping centers, places where there’s lots of people, is where you’re more likely to get it.”
Duxbury also said students who are experiencing flu symptoms such as a high fever, headaches, body aches and coughing should be seen right away. She also said it’s important to prevent the virus from spreading.
“If you do have symptoms of the flu, make sure that you’re covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough and make sure that you wash your hands” Duxbury said. “Try to quarantine yourself, the CDC recommends that you try to stay home for 24 hours after your last fever.”
Although regions in the United States have been experiencing a shortage of Tamiflu, the medicine used to treat influenza within the first 48 hours, Duxbury said none of her patients have had difficulty filling their prescriptions.
“We have all the things that we need,” Duxbury said.