Flu bug ready to bite NM - Albuquerque Journal

Flu bug ready to bite NM

Get that flu shot if you haven’t done so, because influenza appears to be cranking up in New Mexico and much of the U.S., health officials warn.

That forecast is based on rising numbers of clinic visits and hospital admissions for flu-like symptoms.

Flu season is “right on schedule,” said Dr. Randall Knott, a University of New Mexico pediatrician and a member of the New Mexico Immunization Coalition. Though flu season runs October through May, it typically peaks in February, he said.

“I think that we will be submerged in flu in the next two or three weeks,” Knott said.

The most prevalent flu strain circulating this year is an H3N2 virus, which tends to cause the most severe illness among people 65 and older, and young children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The good news is that the flu vaccine available this season appears to be well matched to the virus, and effective.

“If there was ever a season when you want to get a flu vaccine, this is it, because the vaccine is a perfect match,” Knott said.

Ample supplies of flu vaccine remain available in New Mexico, said Marisa Bargsten, a New Mexico Department of Health epidemiologist. Flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months and older.

A student at McCollum Elementary School in Albuquerque braces for a flu shot in the school library last November
A student at McCollum Elementary School in Albuquerque braces for a flu shot in the school library last November. A CDC recommendation against the nasal spray vaccine meant New Mexico children received flu shots last fall, which cut child vaccination numbers in school-based clinics by more than half. (Marla Brose/Journal)

One factor working against the state was a decision last year that barred use of a nasal flu vaccine to immunize children, requiring them to get flu shots instead.

Only about 13,500 doses of flu vaccine were given to children in school-based clinics in fall 2016, compared with about 35,000 in 2015, said Anna Pentler, executive director of the New Mexico Immunization Coalition.

The CDC last year recommended against using the nasal spray based on evidence that injectable vaccine offers better protection from flu. The decision led many New Mexico schools to withdraw from the voluntary program, Pentler said.

Flu symptoms can include a cough, fever, muscle aches, and fatigue. Other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, are more common among children.

The state tracks the number of patients hospitalized for flu in seven New Mexico counties.

From Jan. 8-14 – the most recent data available – about 40 people were hospitalized for flu, or about twice the number in the previous week. No flu deaths have been reported this season in New Mexico.

“We are definitely seeing an increase in hospitalizations,” Bargsten said. But the worst of the flu season likely lies ahead, she said. “I don’t think we’ve reached our peak.”

During the 2015-2016 flu season, flu killed 30 adults and one child in New Mexico.

On average each year, flu kills 36,000 and hospitalizes 200,000 in the U.S.

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