By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
Roosevelt General Hospital’s director of infection control said Thursday flu cases and people showing flu-like symptoms are increasing in the county.
Tersa Bonifant said November was slow for flu cases, but in December, the numbers picked up with 11 confirmed flu cases at RGH.
Thursday also marked the state’s first confirmed flu death for the 2013-2014 season, according to a state Department of Health press release. The death reported was a 76-year-old woman from Santa Fe County.
Bonifant said there have been three positive flu cases this month. She also said patients displaying flu-like symptoms have increased.
“We do a flu surveillance out of our (emergency room). If they have flu-like systems, I count them and report them to the state,” Bonifant said.
Having flu-like symptoms does not mean a person has a positive flu case, according to Bonifant, but it is something the hospital still reports to the DOH for reporting purposes.
Bonifant said the recent spread of the flu can be attributed to contact with people who are contagious.
“If you’re like right in front of them, it can travel 3 to 6 feet, so you’re inhaling what they’re exhaling,” said Bonifant. “You just have to take extra precautions. Wear a mask when you’re going out and wash your hands frequently.”
In Clovis, flu cases are on the rise and health officials are stressing the importance of getting vaccinated to ward off the infectious disease.
According to Cathy Britt, infection control specialist at Plains Regional Medical Center, the hospital saw six positive cases of the flu in November and 114 positive cases in December.
“We have not peaked at this point yet,” she said.
More than one-third of all positive cases seen at the hospital in December were in children below the age of five, and the next largest group of people was between the ages of 20 and 45, Britt said.
New Mexico Department of Health epidemiologist Chad Smelser said normally the predominant number of flu hospitalizations is in the elderly population over the age of 65, but this strain has seen most hospitalizations in people between the ages of 18 and 64.
“That population sometimes doesn’t get vaccinated,” he said. “We really need them to go out and get vaccinated.”
Smelser also said the southeast region of the state, which includes Clovis and Portales, has seen a higher percentage of flu cases than the rest of New Mexico.
CMI staff writer Emily Crowe contributed to this report.