SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Health officials in the Dakotas are attributing two deaths so far this flu season to the H1N1 virus, the same strain that caused a pandemic four years ago.
The virus has caused two deaths in South Dakota, in Jerauld and Minnehaha counties, the Argus Leader newspaper reported. The virus was linked to the deaths of 24 people in the state during the 2009-2010 flu season.
“It’s back again,” South Dakota State Epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger said. “The virus is circulating again in South Dakota and the rest of the country.”
The best protection is a flu shot, he said. This year’s influenza vaccine protects against the H1N1 strain, and supplies are plentiful. The vaccine four years ago was an emergency dosage separate from the regular vaccine the government had been distributing that fall.
There have been no H1N1 deaths reported in North Dakota yet this season, where about half of the 23 reported cases of the illness are in Ward County. It’s unclear why the cases are concentrated there, though the higher numbers in the north-central North Dakota county might just be due to more testing being done in the area, First District Health Unit registered nurse Danell Eklund told KXMC-TV.
Eklund also urged residents to get a flu shot.
“The more the community is getting vaccinated, the less virus there is in the community,” she said. “Vaccines work on prevention only. They don’t ever help once you have (the flu). But if you get it before, it takes about two weeks and then you’re protected against the flu.”