Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
A strain of influenza that caused the 2009 flu pandemic is causing widespread illness again this year, among younger people in New Mexico and nationally, health officials said Friday.
“Right now, (2009) H1N1 is the prevalent strain,” said Dr. Chad Smelser, medical epidemiologist for the New Mexico Department of Health. “It is causing infections in children and younger adults.”
Flu activity and hospitalizations for flu in Albuquerque began rising in late December, Smelser said.
“The long and the short of it is that influenza is increasing throughout the state,” he said. “People need to know that and get their shots.”
People ages 19 to 64 account for about half the state’s hospitalizations for flu, Smelser said. Patients in that age group typically make up fewer than 30 percent of hospitalizations, he said.
Smelser did not have figures on the number of flu hospitalizations statewide.
Albuquerque area hospitals reported that H1N1 is responsible for a majority of flu hospitalizations.
At University of New Mexico Hospital, nine patients ages 4 to 64 have been hospitalized for flu since Christmas, compared with three before the holiday.
“The point is, it has really taken off,” said Dr. Meghan Brett, UNMH’s epidemiologist.
At Presbyterian Hospital, 15 people remained hospitalized for flu on Friday, said Dr. David Stryker, medical director of infection control at Presbyterian Hospital.
H1N1 is responsible for a majority of those hospitalizations, ranging from pediatric to elderly patients, he said.
Stryker did not have specific data about the age of flu patients. But nationally, more than half of hospitalizations have been among those 65 and younger.
Flu has also contributed to a rush at urgent care clinics and hospital emergency rooms in recent weeks, although colds account for most of those seeking treatment in Albuquerque, physicians said Friday.
However, urgent care physicians said demand for services isn’t unusually heavy for January, when traffic typically picks up after the holidays.
“This has the feel of the start of the flu season,” said Dr. Roderick McVeety, medical director of ABQ Health Partners urgent care system.
“It’s not too late for people to get their flu shots,” he added.
The ABQ Health Partners clinic at Journal Center treated 100 patients on Thursday and about 50 by 1:30 p.m. Friday.
About 20 people waited outside Friday morning for doors to open at MD Urgent Care near Paseo del Norte and Wyoming NE.
“We’re busy, but most of them are colds,” McVeety said. Severity of colds range from mild head colds to severe upper respiratory infections threatening secondary infections, he said.
“There’s some generally bad colds going around,” he said.
Some patients have put off visits to a clinic for a week or longer as they battled colds on their own, he said.
Seek medical attention if you have flu symptoms or a worsening cold with a persistent cough or fever, physicians say.
Influenza is transmitted through sneezes, coughs and touching infected surfaces. Flu symptoms include an abrupt fever, muscle pain, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat or runny nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Flu has a “hard and fast” onset of symptoms and higher risk of severe complications, McVeety said.
A good way to avoid serious complications from colds and flu is to remain well-hydrated, he said.
“If you have any chronic illnesses, see a doctor sooner rather than later,” he said.