A 76-year-old woman became the first to die of the flu this season, and southeast medical clinics reported the most dramatic jump in cases in the state, the Department of Health reported Thursday.
NMDOH confirmed the first confirmed flu death was a Santa Fe County woman.
Southeast New Mexico has seen the largest spike in flu cases this past week, with a nearly 15 percent increase, more than double the statewide increase of 7 percent.
“Historically, the Southeast part of the state has among the highest rates of flu-like illness, and it’s likely due to multiple lifestyle factors,” said NMDOH spokesman David Morgan. “The Southeast part of the state has the highest rates of smoking, obesity and chronic disease in the state.”
As of Dec. 22, 7 percent of people who sought medical care in Quay, DeBaca, Curry, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties showed signs of the flu. A week later, that number rose to nearly 13 percent.
The northwest region saw an increase of nearly 3 percent, the northeast region saw 4.3 percent of new cases and the southwest region’s cases grew by 5.1 percent.
The department does not record information by county and doesn’t track every case of the flu, Morgan said. The department has monitoring sites throughout the state at doctors’ offices and urgent care centers. Each week during flu season, they report the percentage of people who visit with a flu-like illness.
The predominant circulating flu strain in New Mexico and the United States is influenza H1N1. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the flu vaccine is a good match for that strain of H1N1.
“It’s not too late to get vaccinated,” Morgan said.
Flu symptoms may include rapid illness onset, with fever, cough, sore throat, headache and/or muscle aches.
NMDOH recommends flu shots for children 6 months to 4 years old, pregnant women, people 50 years old or older, people with chronic medical conditions or who have compromised immune systems. The department also recommended shots for those who live in nursing homes, American Indians, those who are morbidly obese, healthcare professionals and those at risk for complications from the flu.
“Please remember that the best way to protect yourself and the elderly from the flu is to get vaccinated,” said Department of Health Cabinet Secretary Retta Ward.
CDC recommends that those who are sick with flu-like illness should stay home for at least 24 hours after a fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities.