Flu cases on the rise in Lea County
The New Mexico Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of increased influenza activity in recent weeks.
Jenny Bridgforth, RN, BSN, infection preventionist at Lea Regional Medical Center pointed out Hobbs and Lea County are not immune.
“We’re just having an influx of flu in our area,” she said. “It’s not too late at all to get a flu vaccine. We encourage all of our population to get a flu vaccine.”
She and the CDC noted those at high risk are children younger than two, adults 65 or older, people with chronic illnesses, those who are immunosuppressed, pregnant women and residents of chronic-care facilities and nursing homes.
“Last week, 1.6 percent of our (emergency room) visits were with flu-like symptoms. This week, it’s 2.1 percent, so it has gone up,” Bridgforth said. “We are considered an area that has had an outbreak.”
She explained an outbreak is defined as at least two cases of influenza-like illness in a specific area with at least one lab-confirmed case.
“Signs and symptoms of the flu, since it’s a disease of the respiratory tract, are fever, headache, muscle aches and a dry cough,” she said. “Sometimes you can have (gastrointestinal) symptoms as well, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. That’s especially true for the pediatric populations.”
The CDC urged early intervention, asking health care providers to test all patients for flu if they come in with upper respiratory tract problems. Once the disease is confirmed, an anti-viral medication should be used in the first two days for best results.
Dr. Mario Henriquez of the LRMG Family Practice clinic said after three days, patients are still treated but not with the anti-viral medication.
“We’re pretty good at symptom control. If somebody’s sneezing, if somebody’s coughing, if somebody has fever, we provide antihistamine or other medication for the symptoms,” he said. “We also urge increased water intake.”
Cases that become more severe are either referred to a specialist or to the emergency room, depending on the need.
Both Bridgforth and Henriquez stressed the importance of the vaccine and frequent hand-washing to prevent the disease.
Henriquez estimated about 40 percent of the people he’s talked to refuse the vaccine, many because they mistakenly believe it will give them the flu. Although some minor symptoms may arise, such as a runny nose and brief sore throat, that’s the vaccine doing its job of improving the immune system, not the actual disease, he said.
“Your immune system is better. You develop the defense you need to develop against the actual disease,” he said.
The CDC advisory acknowledged the influenza vaccine effectiveness in general has been lower against the H3N2 viruses, the current predominant strain, than against influenza H1N1 or influenza B viruses.
“If you notice (the) signs and symptoms, even if you’ve had the flu vaccine, be sure to go to your provider because the earlier you’re treated with anti-virals, hopefully within 48 hours or before, the better the outcome is,” Bridgforth said. “The earlier you get treated the better off you are.”
Henriquez said the flu season, normally from October through March, heightens in January and February. He agreed with Bridgforth’s comment that it’s not too late to get vaccinated.
While discussing flu, Bridgforth also expressed concern over another disease called RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, that mostly affects the very young or the elderly. RSV symptoms are similar to the flu, including runny nose, coughing, breathing difficulties, decrease in appetite, fever, sneezing, wheezing, irritability and decreased activity.
RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under one year old, with prematurely born children particularly at risk, Bridgforth said.
The NMDOH has established a surveillance program for RSV.
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