PIERRE, S.D. – With the Christmas season and all its gatherings just around the corner, now is a good time to get a flu vaccination, says a state health official.

“National Influenza Vaccination Week is December 2-8 and it’s a good reminder that getting vaccinated is the single best way to protect you and your loved ones from the flu,” said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, State Epidemiologist for the Department of Health. “Even healthy kids and adults can get very sick from the flu and its complications can lead to hospitalization and even death.”

So far this flu season, South Dakota has reported 97 laboratory-confirmed cases of flu and 16 flu-related hospitalizations. Kightlinger noted that not everyone who is sick seeks medical care or gets tested so the actual number of cases is higher.

During the 2011-2012 season, 51.1 percent of South Dakotans over age 6 months were vaccinated against the flu, the highest rate in the nation. “That’s good news, but there are still too many South Dakotans who don’t get vaccinated,” said Kightlinger.

Annual flu vaccination is recommended for everyone, but some are at higher risk for complications – pregnant women, people over 50 years and people with chronic medical conditions. Health-care workers and household contacts of high-risk populations such as those with young infants should also be vaccinated. Children are another high risk group, accounting for significant cases and hospitalizations each year and helping spread flu in the community. The department offers free flu vaccine for kids from six months to 18 years.

In addition to vaccination, to prevent the spread of the flu:

• Wash your hands often with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand gel;

• Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze;

• Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth; and,

• Stay home if you’re sick.

Learn more at http://flu.sd.gov.

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