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An ouch of prevention

About 100 students lined up for flu shots recently at the Marie Hughes Elementary School gym, joining an estimated 20,000 children statewide expected to get vaccinated at school clinics this fall.

Most kids put on a brave face as nursing students from Central New Mexico Community College administered the flu shots.

“Even the little tiny kids who you would expect to be terrified, they take it in stride,” CNM nursing student Brenda Garcia said of her young patients, who ranged from kindergartners to fifth-graders.

Marie Hughes is one of 359 schools statewide expected to host flu shot clinics this year, offered through the School Kids Influenza Immunization Program, or SKIIP, a state and federally funded program. It is one of 70 Albuquerque Public Schools expected to sponsor the clinics.

Immunizing children helps keeps the entire population healthy because data show that flu outbreaks begin in schools, said Anna Pentler, executive director of the New Mexico Immunization Coalition, which oversees the SKIIP program.

“Absenteeism in schools peaks about two weeks before (flu activity) peaks in the community,” Pentler said. “We know it is spreading from kids to the community.”

Flu activity remains low, but flu is on the uptick nationally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this week. New Mexico health officials reported last week reported what is likely the state’s first flu death of the 2017-2018 flu season — that of a 90-year-old Bernalillo County woman who lived in a long-term care facility.

Gov. Susana Martinez received a flu shot Tuesday at an Albuquerque pharmacy and urged all New Mexicans to do the same. Health officials recommend that everyone six months and older get an annual flu shot.

“Flu can affect us all, and we all need to do our part to stay healthy,” Martinez said. “That’s why I encourage all New Mexicans to get their flu shot. It’s simple, fast and will help keep you healthy.”

In Australia, where the 2017 flu season is winding down, the government reported more than twice the number of flu cases than in 2016. In the U.S., too little virus is circulating now to predict the severity of the season here, Pentler said.

“It was a more severe season in Australia,” she said. “Whether it will be a severe season here is anybody’s guess.”

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