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Flu rate declines in N.M. while U.S. rate surges

New Mexico State epidemiologist Dr. Michael Landen

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — While a second peak of influenza is being experienced nationwide, New Mexico’s flu rate is declining, even with two strains of influenza making the rounds.

Still, New Mexico has the highest overall rate for hospitalizations among states that are part of a national influenza surveillance network, said State Epidemiologist Dr. Michael Landen.

And so far this season 110 deaths in New Mexico have been attributed to pneumonia and influenza, two of them children, he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 92 children nationwide have died from the flu thus far this season.

New Mexico, like most states, does not track individual cases of influenza. What it does track is the rate of hospitalizations due to influenza, and the percentage of outpatient visits that are for influenza-like illnesses, Landen said.

“Hospitalization surveillance is done in only 14 states, New Mexico being part of the network. We do surveillance in representative counties and hospitals that make up more than half the hospitalizations in the state. What we’ve noted is that of the 14 states that do this surveillance, New Mexico has the highest hospitalization rate for all ages, and particularly for children 4 years of age and younger.”

The rate of hospitalizations for those New Mexico children is 165 per 100,000 children, compared to the rate for the 14 surveillance states combined, which is between 60 and 70 hospitalizations per 100,000 children age 4 and younger, Landen said.

In early January, New Mexico’s rate of influenza peaked, with nearly 12% of all outpatient visits due to people experiencing influenza-like symptoms. That rate has declined and is now at 7.8% of all outpatient visits, which is still higher than the current national rate of 6.8%, Landen said.

“The peak in influenza-like illness in early January was due to Influenza B. Currently most influenza cases in New Mexico are due to Influenza A H1N1, though we’re not seeing a second peak of influenza-like illness as is occurring at the national level,” Landen said.

According to the CDC, the flu season kicked off with its earliest start in 15 years, with people in some Southern states reporting flu-like illnesses as early as October.

That wave peaked in late December and began declining until a second surge began in late January. Last week, yet another surge was detected, the CDC said.

Nationwide, the CDC estimates that thus far this season there have been 26,000 influenza-like illnesses; 12,000,000 influenza-caused medical visits; 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 influenza-related deaths.

In total, the CDC estimates that 26 million people have gotten the flu so far this season.

Vaccinations remain a major tool in the fight against the flu. “We know that overall vaccination coverage is about 50% in New Mexico, which is similar to the national percentage,” Landen said. “We’re in the middle of the flu season, so it’s not too late to get one. The overall vaccine effectiveness for any influenza virus this season is 45%, which means getting vaccinated will reduce your chance of needing medical attention for influenza by 45%.”

The range of flu shot effectiveness is typically between 40% and 60%, he said.

Landen also cautioned people to not to be confused by lab tests that show positive for coronavirus.

“The common cold is a type of coronavirus, but that’s not the COVID-19 coronavirus” that originated in China, infected about 74,575 people, and killed more than 2,100 people.

“There is no COVID-19 coronavirus in New Mexico at this time,” Landen said emphatically.

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