In California, at least eight people have died from the flu. In North Texas, 19 deaths. The Associated Press says there’s been a slow start to the flu season in Arizona, but there have been three deaths in Southern Nevada. And as of Thursday, New Mexico is reporting it’s first flu death for the season.
According to the latest update from the Centers For Disease Control:
For the week of December 22-28, the proportion of people seeing their health care provider for influenza-like illness (ILI) increased significantly, and is above the national baseline for the fifth consecutive week. All ten regions reported ILI activity at or above their region-specific baseline level.
With flu circulating, officials are urging people to get vaccinated. “An annual seasonal flu vaccine (either the flu shot or the nasal-spray flu vaccine) is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get seasonal flu and spread it to others,” writes the CDC. “When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through that community.”
“We monitor deaths, we monitor how many people are going to the health care providers for influenza like illness, we monitor how many people are getting hospitalized and what kind of illness they have,” said Joan Baumbach, a medical epidemiologist with the New Mexico Department of Health in an interview from 2013. “We submit all this information to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and then look and see how we’re comparing with the rest of the country, frequently there are trends that are very very similar, and there are things that look a little different from region to region.”
According to Baumbach, it’s recommended that everyone six months of age and older get vaccinated to prevent flu complications, particularly death, from happening, especially those 65 years of age or older.
“We recommend, particularly every one 50 and older really think about vaccines; children under five, and especially kids under two years of age are more vulnerable to complications; people of any age with chronic illnesses like lung disease such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, other complications and medical conditions; and then people who are very obese; pregnant women and women who have just delivered within the last two weeks. Very important for them to get a flu vaccine; and American Indian populations as well,” said Baumbach.
This is especially important to keep in mind as the year begins. According to Reuters, “Nearly half of the United States is reporting widespread influenza activity, most of it attributed to the H1N1 virus that caused a worldwide pandemic in 2009.”
If you need help finding a low cost or free flu shot you can find information at the HealthMap Vaccine Finder. And if you're still not sold on getting vaccinated, at least take a moment to learn how the influenza virus works.