Flu strikes up in January

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The flu season has been at its highest peak this year. According to www.flu.gov, the flu season occurs between January and February. Socorro General Hospital public relations manager Brad Treptow said the hospital had five confirmed flu cases in December and three hospitalizations. From Jan. 1 through Jan. 20 there have been 16 confirmed flu cases and two hospitalizations. The three hospital-based clinics of pediatrics, internal medicine and family practice are seeing 30 patients a day with flu-like symptoms, he said.

“We encourage everyone to get a shot, to call and schedule an appointment,” Treptow said.

In September, students at Sarracino Middle School received free flu vaccines from the Public Health Department through the School Kids Influenza Immunization Project, said Sarracino Middle School nurse Pat Romero. The school follows the SKIIP program, which started four years ago when H1N1 was a concern, she said.

Socorro Consolidated Schools works with the Public Health Department in order for students to receive free flu immunizations. SKIIP provides paperwork and permission forms on flu vaccines. Parents need to approve and sign a permission form in order for the students to receive the vaccines, she said. There are differences between a cold and the flu, and the staff is extra diligent to make sure no children have the flu, she said. Nurses check on every student and staff member for any signs or symptoms of the flu. If a teacher notices a student isn’t feeling well, the student is sent to the nurse’s office to be checked.

“We are always checking for high temperatures, not just for a cold but the flu.” Romero said.

In elementary schools they teach good hand washing methods, she said. At the middle school, there are hand sanitizing gel stations in all the hallways. Romero wipes down each hand sanitizing gel station daily.

Two weeks ago, Superintendent Randall Earwood sent out an email that instructed all principals to let custodians know about disinfecting everything that is touched in each school, she said. Custodians also need to wipe down everything daily to disinfect doorknobs, handles, desks and restrooms in order to prevent illnesses from occurring.

Romero advises students to notice where they put their hands, to cover their mouth when they sneeze and cough, and not to sneeze or cough in their hands. Students also need to wash their hands before they eat, she said.

“If someone is sick, we send them home and the student must not have a temperature for over 24 hours in order to come back to school,” Romero said. “We check every child when they don’t feel good, and they stay out to not get other students sick.”

The district nurse for schools, Stephanie DeBrine, said the flu usually starts out like a cold, but it depends on the fever. With a flu, a person’s temperature will be 101.5 or higher. The symptoms of the flu are usually chills, body aches and a fever. The flu shot can prevent a person from getting the flu, and if a person gets the flu after getting the shot, then they were already fighting off an illness, she said.

“If you keep healthy, you can prevent a lot of different illnesses,” DeBrine said. “And if you have a strong immune system, you can fight off a lot of viruses.”

At Socorro General Hospital, practice administrator Bob LaHue said at the hospital-based clinics they have adult and children’s flu vaccines available. If the patient has an appointment scheduled, they can get a flu shot in addition to that appointment, he said. Anyone who has not scheduled an appointment and only needs a flu shot can schedule their appointments between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Thursdays.

In December 2012, the New Mexico Department of Health issued a press release stating the flu started earlier this year, and has been seen in the United States for nearly 10 years, including in New Mexico. The release advised people who are at least 6 months old to get vaccinated to protect themselves. The press release also said the number of people in New Mexico who saw a health care provider for flu like illnesses increased in December.