Season's first flu cases appear in New Mexico

Oct. 31—State health experts on Tuesday confirmed the official start of the 2023-24 flu season, citing the first two cases appearing in New Mexico.

The cases appeared in the northern and southern areas of the state.

"The geographical spread of these flu cases serves as an early indicator that we are likely to see more flu cases across the state in the upcoming weeks and months," Health Secretary Patrick Allen said in a statement Tuesday.

Now is the best time to get a flu vaccine, he added.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu is just beginning to make its way across the nation, and case rates are highest in Alaska. Since flu vaccinations last only about six months, residents need to receive a yearly flu shot for protection. This year's flu inoculation combats four flu strains, CDC officials report.

State Department of Health figures show only one person died in New Mexico of flu-related complications during the 2022-23 flu season; 16 died in the previous season.

Allen urged all residents to receive COVID-19 boosters. RSV vaccinations are also available for infants and adults over age 60.

Last year, the trifecta of respiratory illnesses — COVID-19, RSV and flu — pushed hospitals over capacity in emergency rooms and intensive care units with as many as 22 children intubated at the University of New Mexico Children's Hospital alone.

State health officials have advised providers to test for flu and COVID-19, illnesses that can invade the body simultaneously.

"Testing only for flu does not eliminate the possibility a patient may also have COVID-19 nor does just COVID-19 testing exclude the chances of also having the flu," the Health Department said in a news release.

While the newest flu and COVID-19 booster shots don't guarantee prevention of illness, the vaccines can reduce the severity of illness, said Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Laura Parajon.

Those at higher risk are children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2; pregnant women; people over 50; anyone with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart disease; people who live in nursing homes; Native Americans; and people who are morbidly obese.