With COVID-19 widespread, getting flu shot important for New Mexicans

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) today reports the first confirmed flu case in New Mexico, marking the beginning of the 2020-2021 flu season as both the state and nation experience widespread increases in the number of people infected with the COVID-19 virus. 

The flu case, confirmed by the NMDOH Scientific Laboratory in Albuquerque, is that of a teenager living in southeast New Mexico. It will be the first of many flu cases expected to be diagnosed in the coming weeks and months.

“There is no better time to get your flu shot than now,” said Department of Health Acting Cabinet Secretary Billy Jimenez. “Flu-related illnesses make for busy times for medical professionals, especially in hospitals where ICU beds and ventilators are needed for the more severe flu cases – the same beds and equipment needed to treat severe cases of COVID-19.”

Unlike COVID-19, for which there is no vaccine right now, the flu shot is different every year. It’s created to slow or stop the most common types of flu expected to spread during the fall and winter months. Flu season begins every October, and it can sometimes last as long as May of the following year, depending on the flu type. Currently, it’s too soon to tell how severe this flu season will be.

Flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses and share many symptoms, but they are caused by different viruses. It is possible to have both viruses at the same time. For patients experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness (fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing), NMDOH recommends New Mexicans get both a flu and a COVID-19 test.

The Department of Health recommends all New Mexicans 6 months and older get the annual flu shot. Getting your flu shot every year is the best way to protect yourself and loved ones from the complications, hospitalizations, or death that flu can cause. Protecting yourself and loved ones with a flu vaccine also saves healthcare resources for the treatment of COVID-19 and other health conditions.

The following groups of people are strongly recommended to get their annual flu shot because they are at high risk for complications from flu, or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications:

  • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
  • Pregnant women (all trimesters), and up to two weeks post-partum
  • People ages 65 years and older
  • People of any age with medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, lung or heart disease, and those who are immunocompromised
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including healthcare personnel and caregivers of babies younger than six months
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives
  • People who are morbidly obese

People in these groups should also consider seeing their healthcare provider as early as possible to be evaluated for antiviral medication if they develop flu symptoms because the sooner that these medications are begun, the better the chance of preventing serious complications. People who have the flu may have some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

Remember that to avoid catching the flu or passing it on to others, everyone should wash their hands frequently, cover their mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, and stay home when ill. Masks/face coverings will help to prevent flu spread as well as COVID-19.

Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including healthcare provider offices, pharmacies, hospitals, and public health offices, as well as some worksites and schools. Contact your healthcare provider or pharmacist about getting a flu shot. The Health Department offers vaccinations for people without insurance or who are otherwise not able to get vaccinated. Those with Medicaid or other insurance who go to public health offices are asked to bring their insurance card.

For more information about flu, the flu shot, and where to find your nearest health care provider visit https://www.togethernm.org/flu/ as well as the Immunize NM website: https://www.nmhealth.org/about/phd/idb/imp/