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SANTA FE (AP) — The flu has walloped New Mexico with an early one-two punch and health officials are urging people to get vaccinated against the illness.
Dr. Joan Baumbach, an epidemiologist in the New Mexico Department of Health, said Friday the flu has hit New Mexico earlier and harder than last year.
“This is an unusually early flu season,” she said.
Medical providers report they’re seeing 7 percent of their patients with flu-like illnesses, according to department. That’s higher than the national average and is up from 3 percent in New Mexico at this time last year. New Mexico peaked at 3.7 percent in late February and March last year.
There have been 88 New Mexicans hospitalized so far. That compares with two cases at this time last year, according to Baumbach.
There have been no confirmed deaths from flu so far.
The department doesn’t track every flu case statewide, but it collects information from counties representing more than half of the population.
Of the hospitalizations, 55 are in Bernalillo County — the state’s largest county, which is home to the city of Albuquerque.
The flu season typically runs from October through April, and there were 105 people hospitalized last year in Bernalillo County. But Baumbach said 2012 was a mild flu season in the state.
There’s an ample supply of flu vaccine, according to the department.
“We’re in good shape in New Mexico, luckily,” Baumbach said.
Health officials recommend that anyone 6 months and older should be vaccinated annually.
According to the department, vaccinations are particularly important for certain groups of people — pregnant women, children who are 6 months to 5 years old, adults 50 and older, Native Americans and people with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma.
Baumbach said people with flu-like symptoms, which include fever, body aches and fatigue, should see a medical provider to determine if treatment is needed with an antiviral drug. Some prescription medication can help ease the severity of flu.
To help avoid catching the flu and spreading it to other people, people should frequently wash their hands, cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and remain at home if sick, according to the department.