Flu hitting New Mexico harder than most other states - Albuquerque Journal

Flu hitting New Mexico harder than most other states

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The flu has begun its rampage across New Mexico, contributing to four deaths this season and sending patients scurrying to area emergency rooms with body aches and coughing.

Federal data show the virus hit New Mexico harder than most other states in December, but a top state health official says it’s not too late to help contain the spread through vaccinations.

New Mexico is among 11 states reporting “widespread” flu activity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest influenza surveillance report. The report also said New Mexico, Colorado and Georgia have the country’s highest levels of influenza-like illness, based on the proportion of outpatient visits related to influenza-like sickness.

The report uses data for the week that ended Dec. 22 and does not include the spike that one official says has occurred at the University of New Mexico Hospital in the past 10 days.

New statewide numbers are expected today.

Although the flu has afflicted communities across the state, Dr. Michael Landen, state epidemiologist with the New Mexico Department of Health, said the northeastern quadrant has experienced some of the highest rates. The four reported flu-related deaths this season occurred in Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, Mora and Lincoln counties.

Flu season typically peaks from December to February, and Landen stressed Thursday that flu shots can still help limit the impact this year.

“We have a lot of influenza season left and a lot of opportunity to prevent disease by people getting vaccinated,” he said.

Dr. Steve McLaughlin, emergency medicine department chairman at the University of New Mexico, said he expects any new flu activity report to reflect a surge based on his experience treating patients at UNM Hospital and the Sandoval Regional Medical Center in Rio Rancho. He said that influenza is now accounting for an estimated 10 to 15 percent of all visits to the UNM emergency room, and that the onslaught began about 10 days ago.

“It just started very quickly,” McLaughlin said Thursday. “We went from no flu to a lot of flu very fast.”

Presbyterian Healthcare Services started experiencing a mild uptick in flu cases about two weeks ago that is accelerating, said Dr. Jeff Salvon-Harman, PHS’ chief patient safety officer.

It’s too soon to know what to expect in the coming months, he said, because the course of any flu season is hard to predict. But aside from an earlier-than-usual spike in statewide cases, Salvon-Harman said nothing about the current season seems out of the ordinary.

“Right now, we’re not seeing anything that’s particularly unusual or uncharacteristic for flu – nothing that would suggest this is a novel strain or anything along those lines,” he said.

Landen said the primary culprit in New Mexico and nationally appears to be the Influenza A H1N1 strain. That’s different from last year’s predominant strain, H3N2.

New Mexico had 70 influenza-related deaths in the 2017-18 season. Landen said only 43.7 percent of the state population was vaccinated during that season, the lowest rate since 2010.

“Unfortunately, I think some of the early information about a bad match for the influenza vaccine really sort of dampened enthusiasm for vaccination (during the 2017-18 season), which is really disappointing and probably led to more deaths in New Mexico,” he said.

Though it’s too soon to know exactly how well this year’s vaccine will fight the virus, Landen said, past vaccines have proved to be good matches for H1N1.

“Regardless of whether we have the optimal match or if the match was less than optimal, it’s still an appropriate thing … for most people in New Mexico to get,” he said, saying that vaccines reduce the likelihood of getting sick in the first place but often limit the severity or reduce the chance of hospitalization in those who still contract the virus.

The Department of Health recommends the flu vaccine for anyone over 6 months old but says it is particularly important for those who may experience more complicated flu cases. That includes pregnant women and those who recently gave birth; anyone under 5 or over 65; nursing home residents; those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease and those who are morbidly obese; American Indians and Alaska Natives; and those who care for anyone in the same groups.

Anyone in the above groups who thinks he or she has the flu – common symptoms include fever, fatigue, head and body aches, sore throat and congestion – should contact his or her provider for possible treatment with antiviral medicine, DOH says.

But those who are not at a high risk for complications, are otherwise healthy and don’t have extreme symptoms such as breathing difficulty can likely stay home and take care of themselves, McLaughlin said.

“Don’t go to work; don’t go out in public and spread it around,” he said. “(We’re) really encouraging people to wash their hands (and) if they’re coughing to cover their cough.

“It’s very contagious.”

Home » Business » Health Care » Flu hitting New Mexico harder than most other states

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages


Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
US downs Chinese balloon, drawing a threat from China
ABQnews Seeker
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. military ... WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. military on Saturday shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military ...
Captions contest
ABQnews Seeker
OPINION: Go to abqjournal.com/caption-contest and click ... OPINION: Go to abqjournal.com/caption-contest and click on the photo to send us your suggested caption.
ABQnews Seeker
OPINION: No free lunches for school ... OPINION: No free lunches for school kids.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife counts, treats and gathers data ...
ABQnews Seeker
Annual count is part of federal ... Annual count is part of federal Wolf Recovery Plan
Untangling the policies and politics of New Mexico's medical ...
ABQnews Seeker
Legislature looking at changes to 2021 ... Legislature looking at changes to 2021 law designed to help doctors
Gov't transparency organization adds new members
ABQnews Seeker
Two local journalists join the New ... Two local journalists join the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government's board
Albuquerque to consider capping vacation rentals
ABQnews Seeker
Mayor Tim Keller's proposal stems from ... Mayor Tim Keller's proposal stems from the city's 'Housing Forward' initiative
Doctors flee New Mexico – and more ...
ABQnews Seeker
The state's physician numbers are under ... The state's physician numbers are under national provider-to-population benchmarks
Any given soup day: Slurpers show up for Souper ...
ABQnews Seeker
It was the chefs — not ... It was the chefs — not the Chiefs — who battled in this Souper Bowl.