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NM has one of the highest rates of flu in the nation despite recent drop

Polina Tankilevitch

Despite a decline in the number of flu cases in New Mexico at the start of the year, the state still has some of the highest levels in the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of people with flu and flu-like symptoms dropped in all but Northeastern New Mexico in the first week of January, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Health. Cases remain highest in the Southeast, where they make up over 15% of hospital and clinic visits compared to the state’s baseline of just over 4.5%.

CDC Epidemiologist Krista Kniss said these respiratory diseases are elevated nationwide, but “those levels of people seeking care for things like influenza are very high in New Mexico.”

CDC data shows New Mexico had the highest level of flu activity in the nation along with Louisiana, Tennessee and South Carolina for the week ending January 6. Still, Kniss said the numbers aren’t out of the ordinary if you discount the 2020 through 2022 seasons, when COVID precautions kept flu levels way down.

“I wouldn’t consider this an extremely severe season or an extremely mild season,” she said. “It’s somewhere in the middle.”

It’s not too late for people over 6 months old to get a flu vaccine, which Kniss said is the best way to prevent illness or at least stave off any severe complications, “including hospitalization.”

“And people do die from influenza,” she added.

She said preliminary data suggests this year’s vaccine is a good match for the viruses circulating.

The state Health Department considers the number of New Mexicans who’ve gotten the flu vaccine “very low.” While data wasn’t available in the last two weekly reports, only around a quarter of the state had gotten vaccinated as of late December.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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