It has been a slow start to the flu season in South Dakota, but state health officials are warning people to still guard themselves against the virus.

Usually the season lasts from fall to spring. The latest report published by the South Dakota Department of Health showed that until the week of Dec. 19, the numbers of confirmed cases of flu have declined, since this year during that week, 67 cases of influenza were confirmed, which compared to the same week in 2014, there were 242 cases.

The flu season this year will come later than expected, according to health officials and experts. Photo: NBC New York.

The Argus Leader reported that in South Dakota there have been only seven confirmed cases, compared with 1,700 during the 2014 flu season.

“Everything last year was higher, the number of cases, the number of hospitalizations, the number of deaths. And then the anecdotal stories that we get from people is, they said if they got influenza last year, they were hit hard,” South Dakota State Epidemiologist, Lon Kightlinger said.

Kightlinger also stated that the decrease of the numbers may be due to the fact that this year it has been a milder winter and more effective vaccines – which was not the case of last season in which the viruses mutated, causing the vaccine to be less effective. However, he noted that the flu season peaks at different times each year, so it is difficult to predict.

Although the flu season has had a slow start in the Dakotas, North Dakota Influenza Surveillance Coordinator Jill Baber said it won’t be unusual that a severe outbreak of flu occurred this season. Likewise, Sanford Health family medicine doctor Eric Thompson established that those potential cases could start rising soon.

According to the North Dakota Department of Health, the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.

Experts believe that the flu virus can be spread by droplets produced when someone with the flu coughs, sneezes or speaks, and land on the mouth or nose of people nearby. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.

Health officials recommended that people get a flu shot, wash their hands frequently and stay away from public places and stay home from work if they are having symptoms of illness.

Source: CBS Minessota