Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
The return of cooler weather and pumpkin spice lattes means not only the beginning of fall, but also of flu season.
The New Mexico Department of Health reported three confirmed cases of influenza in three Quay County children on Tuesday.
“We would expect this to be the beginning of more influenza infections to come,” said Dr. Chad Smelser, the state’s deputy epidemiologist.
According to the department, the children, ages 8, 11 and 13, have not traveled outside the state recently.
Smelser said it’s unlikely all three children were vaccinated.
“We encourage New Mexicans to get their seasonal flu vaccination – the sooner the better,” Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher said in a news release. “The exact timing and duration of flu season changes year to year, but flu activity often begins to heighten in October.”
The department’s public health offices offer flu vaccines to the uninsured and children, but they will not be available until next month.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends being vaccinated by the end of October. The season typically peaks from December to February.
Last year’s flu season had extremely high hospitalization rates.
“Flu is unpredictable, and as we head into our flu season, we’re reminded about how serious flu can be after last season,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund wrote in an email. “We had record-breaking levels of influenza illness, hospitalization rates, and deaths in children (180 pediatric deaths) during the 2017-18 season.”
Dr. Smelser said the department estimated 284 people died in the state of the flu and flu-related complications from October 2017 to May 2018.
But it’s difficult to predict how severe the coming season will be.
“Sometimes things come out of nowhere,” said Dr. Walter Dehority, a pediatric infection disease physician at University of New Mexico Hospital. “In 2008, I don’t think anyone predicted the swine flu would come up.”
That strain killed more than 250,000 people worldwide, some studies found.
Dehority said the number of people vaccinated can also make a difference.
Most of this year’s flu vaccines contain four strains of the virus, including an updated version of the H3N2 component, whose inefficacy was partly to blame for last year’s surge.
FluMist, the nasal spray vaccine, is being offered this year after not being recommended the past two years by the CDC after concerns over its effectiveness.
The CDC is again recommending the spray after it was reformulated, but the American Academy of Pediatrics says the shot is preferable for children.
“The nasal spray vaccine may be used this year for children who would not otherwise receive the flu shot, as long as they are 2 years of age or older and healthy without an underlying medical condition,” reads a Sept. 3 news release from the American Academy of Pediatrics. “For instance, if a child refuses the flu shot, or if the physician’s office runs out of the injected vaccine, the nasal spray would be appropriate.”
Groups most at risk of having flu-related complications are:
• Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2.
• People 65 years and older.
• Pregnant women and up to two weeks postpartum.
• People of any age with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, lung or heart disease, and those who are immunocompromised.
• People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
• People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including health care personnel and caregivers of babies less than 6 months old.
• American Indians and Alaska Natives.
• People who are morbidly obese.
Flu symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. The flu may also cause vomiting and diarrhea, but these symptoms are more common in children.
In addition to vaccinating against the virus, washing hands often, covering the mouth and nose while sneezing and staying home when ill can help prevent the flu from spreading.