SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The early influenza season has claimed its first victim in South Dakota, according to the state Department of Health Friday, Nov. 20.

The individual who died was in their 80s and was in Potter County. Health Department officials declined to release additional details citing confidentiality concerns.

“Our sympathy is with the family. Their loss serves as a reminder to us all that influenza can be a very serious illness,” Dr. Joshua Clayton, state epidemiologist for the department, said in a news release. “It is not too late to get vaccinated for this flu season, and if you haven’t yet received your annual flu vaccination, the time to do so is now.”

It is still early in the influenza season, which typically peaks in South Dakota in early February, with state health officials reporting only four lab-confirmed cases of flu and 2 flu-related hospitalizations.

An average of 48 South Dakotans die each year from influenza, according to the Department of Health. Health officials have begged people to get the yearly influenza vaccine to reduce potential hospitalizations that could further stress health care facilities and workers dealing with the surging COVID-19 caseload in the state.

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Health officials recommend everyone age 6 and older get the flu vaccine. Health care workers and household contacts of high-risk populations, such as those with young infants, should also be vaccinated.

Groups like pregnant women, children younger than 5 years, people over 65 years, and people with chronic medical conditions are at higher risk for flu-related complications, such as pneumonia, hospitalization and death.

In addition to vaccination, health officials recommend the following steps to prevent the spread of the flu:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand gel;
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze;
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth;
  • Stay home if you are sick.