State Department of Health announced on Thursday, January 3rd, 2019, that the official toll of deaths by influenza in Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Mora counties had already reached four this season which has barely begun. Not taking into account the 50 something deaths caused by pneumonia related to the flu. New Mexico is among eleven states that have reported this widespread magnitude of the flu activity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest influenza surveillance report. The report also revealed that New Mexico, Colorado and Georgia have had the highest levels of influenza-like illness and deaths.
This data is only to rise in the upcoming days as the flu, a respiratory virus that can pool in the lungs and become a severe infection is expected to increase as the season continues. The most common strain this year is H1N1, the same virus that was responsible for the 2009 flu pandemic, which makes it even more alarming. One study estimated that by the end of April 2009, at least 113,000 to 375,000 people in Mexico had been infected. Although the numbers declined eventually, H1N1 continues to remain present in Mexico, and as of December 2009, was classified by WHO as widespread and with no possibility of containment.
Flu season generally peaks from December to February, Dr. Michael Landen, state epidemiologist with the New Mexico Department of Health emphasised that flu shots can help bring down the death toll this season. “We have a lot of influenza season left and a lot of opportunities to prevent disease by people getting vaccinated,” he added. In the light of the 2017-18 season which had spiked in February and saw almost 300 flu-related deaths in New Mexico, nearly 100 more than the years past, state health officials and medical professionals are urging all the citizens that have not been inoculated to get the vaccination as soon as they possibly can, particularly in Santa Fe, which has been determined as the illness’s epicenter.
Another concerning fact that has surfaced is that more than half of the state population has not been taking advantage of the available vaccine. Reportedly, last year, amidst a particularly aggressive strain of flu, only 43.7 percent of New Mexicans got vaccinated. Bear in mind that the vaccinations take about two weeks to become fully effective. While the flu vaccine being used this year has so far been more effective than last year, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported was only about 25 percent effective against the prevalent strain back then. Alarmingly, some patients who have had the immunization are still getting sick.
Health officials have released guidelines suggesting those who develop a cough, fever, sore throat, congestion, exhaustion, headache or muscle aches should see a doctor and start taking antiviral medications as soon as possible. Patients remain contagious for an average of five days after exhibiting symptoms. They have also encouraged people displaying symptoms to not go out in public to try and contain the disease.