Flu season intensifies in San Juan County

Hospital reports two flu-related deaths

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
Pharmacist Chantz Eyring, right, administers a flu shot to Carol Montoya on Jan. 14, 2014, at a Walgreens location in Farmington.
  • Flu shots are still available at most retail pharmacies.
  • The San Juan Regional Medical Center advises people with the flu to stay hydrated and isolated.
  • Flu activity across the state has doubled what it was last year, according to the state health department.

FARMINGTON — The 2017-18 flu season has become one of the most intense seasons in recent history nationwide, and that is reflected in the severity of the season in San Juan County.

The San Juan Regional Medical Center has admitted three times the number of influenza patients this flu season than it did last year, according to Penny Hill, infection control and employee health manager for SJRMC. Hill said approximately 100 patients have been admitted with the flu, and the hospital has had two influenza-related deaths this season.

In Shiprock, the situation is similar. Navajo Area Indian Health Service spokeswoman Genevieve Notah said there has been an increase in the number of flu patients admitted this year, though only about 4.5 percent of the outpatient visits during this year’s flu season at Northern Navajo Medical Center were due to visits for influenza-like illness. Notah said there have been no reported deaths from influenza in the Shiprock Service Unit.

The San Juan Regional Medical Center advises people with the flu to stay hydrated and avoid contact with others to avoid spreading the flu, according to its website. It advises those with severe or chronic illnesses to contact their doctor if they have flu symptoms and says people with the flu who are having difficulty breathing, who can’t keep fluids down or who have a high fever that doesn’t come down with ibuprofen to see their doctor.

“Because of the severity of this year’s flu season, we want to stress the importance of contacting your doctor if you have flu symptoms, and please be sure to get a flu shot if you haven’t already,” Hill said. “It’s not too late.”

Flu shots are still available at most retail pharmacies, including Safeway, Smith’s, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies in Farmington.

This year’s flu season has been an intense one nationally, with 51 of 54 jurisdictions across the U.S. reporting regional or widespread influenza-like illness activity in the third week of 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In New Mexico alone, influenza-like activity in the first week of January doubled what it was last year, and the New Mexico Department of Health has investigated a dozen flu outbreaks in facilities throughout the state since October, according to a NMDOH report.

“We have not seen an increase in flu activity this early in the winter for the past five years,” NMDOH Secretary Lynn Gallagher stated in the report. “No matter what, the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from flu is to get vaccinated."

The San Juan Regional Medical Center hosted a series of free vaccination clinics throughout San Juan County this fall in advance of the flu season. SJRMC spokeswoman Laura Werbner said 712 flu shots were given at six locations in Aztec, Bloomfield, Farmington and Fruitland in October and November.

The Northern Navajo Medical Center also distributed flu vaccines to more than 40 percent of the active clinical population in the Shiprock Service Unit, Notah said — a rate higher than the national Indian Health Service population vaccination rate of 31.7 percent.

Both the San Juan Regional and Northern Navajo medical centers have taken steps to protect their staff members. Notah said the flu immunization rate among NNMC staff is 99 percent, and Werbner said SJRMC offered free flu vaccines to all employees and their families.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.