BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The flu season is off to a slow start in the Dakotas, but officials say that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t take precautions against the illness.

The season typically runs from the fall to the spring. So far, there have been 67 cases of lab-confirmed influenza in North Dakota, compared with 6,443 during the previous season — the largest count on record, The Bismarck Tribune reported.

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There have been only seven confirmed cases so far in South Dakota, compared with 1,700 during the last flu season, the Argus Leader reported.

A mild winter and an effective vaccine might be reasons, South Dakota State Epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger said, but noted that flu season peaks at different times each year and is difficult to predict.

“You can make a guess at the beginning of the season, but this is a virus,” Kightlinger said. “It just plows its own way, and it’s being slow this year.”

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North Dakota Influenza Surveillance Coordinator Jill Baber said a severe outbreak later this season is possible, and Sanford Health family medicine doctor Eric Thompson said cases might begin to rise soon.

“The holidays are notorious for spreading disease, unfortunately,” he said.

Health officials recommend people get a flu shot, wash their hands frequently and stay away from public places if they become sick. Last year, 57 percent of South Dakotans were vaccinated, tops in the nation.

“It’s the best protection against influenza that we have,” said Jennifer Hsu, an infectious disease and internal medicine doctor with Sanford Health.

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