“The flu has hit hardest in the southeastern part of New Mexico, but it's very likely headed this way,” said San Juan Regional Medical Center's Infection Control Manager Penny Hill.
While there has been only one confirmed flu patient at SJRMC, Hill said several more cases have been confirmed and treated on an out-patient basis at various clinics and physician's offices.
This year's flu strain has arrived five weeks earlier than expected, and it seems to be a particularly virulent one. It can be especially deadly for children and the elderly. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 18 children have died nationwide from the flu this year.
“People who are coming down with this flu seem to be extremely ill, and more are needing to be hospitalized,” said Hill, who adds that it's not too late to take precautions.
“It takes two weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective, so now's the time to get vaccinated,” she said.
The vaccine protects against types A and B influenza, and also against H1N1 influenza, said Hill. The CDC recommends that anyone over the age of six months receive the vaccine, which can be obtained from primary-care physicians, medical clinics, retail pharmacies, or the Department of Health.
Symptoms of the flu include an abrupt onset of fever, sore throat, cough, muscle aches, runny or stuffy nose, chills and body aches. Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea can also be present.
Sugar Singleton Marcy, a physician with San Juan Health Partners in Aztec, is also expecting flu cases to ramp up in the near future.
“Flu is a highly contagious disease, and is passed by coughing, sneezing, and touching surfaces infected persons have touched,” she said. “Influenza usually has such a sudden onset, people can say exactly the hour it set in. It's a viral illness, so antibiotics can't help.”
Many people incorrectly call gastroenteritis -- characterized by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea -- the “stomach flu,” but real flu is actually a respiratory illness, she explained.
While most healthy adults can battle the flu on their own by resting at home, getting plenty of fluids and taking anti-inflammatory, over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, medical care should be sought if someone becomes dehydrated, is experiencing confusion, having trouble breathing, or is experiencing severe vomiting, or chest or abdominal pain.
Singleton Marcy said any child under the age of five exhibiting flu symptoms should be seen by a physician, as should elderly people, pregnant women, or anyone with an underlying health concern such as a heart condition, asthma, diabetes, or an immunosuppressive disease. For high-risk individuals, an anti-viral medication can be given within the first 48 hours of flu onset.
Prevention is key, Singleton Marcy said, and the most important thing people can do to thwart the flu is to wash hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home if feeling ill.
“Don't go to work, don't go to the store, don't go visit family, just stay home and keep your germs to yourself,” she said. “I'm sure most employers would agree with that.”
Singleton Marcy said San Juan Health Partners, which is a full-service family medical practice, is currently accepting new patients. Call 505-334-3404 for more information. Appointments for flu vaccinations with the Department of Health can be made by calling 505-327-4461.