ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico health officials on Thursday confirmed the first five flu deaths of this season.
The cases involve a 91-year-old woman and a 94-year-old woman from Rio Arriba County, a 67-year-old woman from Bernalillo County, a 57-year-old woman from Lea County and a 56-year-old man from Chaves County.
The state Health Department doesn't track every case of flu in New Mexico, but it does track influenza-like illness at dozens of locations statewide to estimate the amount of flu activity. Providers and laboratories reported that nearly 5 percent of patient visits last week were for flu-like illnesses.
That percentage has fallen for two consecutive weeks, but state epidemiologist Michael Landen was still urging people to get vaccinated.
"The influenza season started early and rates of flu-related hospitalizations are higher than they have been in recent years," he said.
Officials said vaccinations are particularly important for 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.
The first of about 726,000 doses of vaccine began arriving in New Mexico in September. In addition to the supplies still available at hospitals, private providers and local public health offices, the state has 20,000 doses for children and 1,700 adult doses available to be shipped, said Kenny Vigil, a health department spokesman.
The flu season typically runs from October through April. Last year, officials confirmed eight flu deaths and dozens of people were hospitalized in Bernalillo County alone.
Flu symptoms can include a fever, body aches, tiredness and cough.