NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Along with fall leaves and winter weather comes seasonal illnesses. New Mexico’s health officials say to prepare for COVID-19, the flu, and Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
“We’ve seen an uptick across the country in COVID cases, hospitals admissions, and that deaths. And that’s been the case here in New Mexico as well,” Dr. Miranda Durham, the chief medical officer at the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH), said during Wednesday’s press conference. “Overall, our hospital admissions remain low, and we’d really like to see it stay that way.”
In a news article about the uptick in hospitalizations, KRQE noted that NMDOH reported 57 hospitalizations for the week of September 2, 2023. At the same time last year, they recorded 148 hospitalizations in a week.
There are several variants of the virus in New Mexico, but Durham said the good news is that most of those circulating are related to one another, and that the newest booster shot should be a good match.
“This is a COVID vaccine that is meant for this fall and winter season. And everyone six months and older can get one of these updated COVID vaccines,” Durham said. If it’s been at least two months since your last booster, this vaccine is for you.
Many health insurance providers will still cover the cost of the vaccine, and the federal Bridge Access Program also provides free COVID-19 vaccines. Durham said you can get the newest COVID-19 shot at the same time as a flu shot.
The most recent recommendations for isolation and masking are: If you test positive, you should isolate yourself for five days and then wear a mask for the next five days, Durham said. If you come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should wear a mask and take a test after five days, if you haven’t yet showed symptoms. Healthcare providers and those with severe COVID should isolate for longer, Durham said.
“For this year, there are no predictions about how this flu season will be,” Dr. Meghan Brett, the hospital epidemiologist at the University of New Mexico (UNM), said during Wednesday’s press conference. Last year’s season was more or less average, and you should get your flu shot in September or October, Brett said.
Anyone six months or older should get a flu vaccine, and the version this year is better tolerated by people with egg allergies and offers protection against the main flu viruses circulating in the community, Brett added.
Those aged 65 or older should get a “high-dose” version, Brett said. But if those aren’t available near you, then you should get the regular version.
“RSV is a virus we see in the late fall and extends through the winter. Last year, what we saw was RSV actually came a little bit earlier, a couple months earlier, than we were normally used to, and with that came a lot of very sick children,” Dr. Anna Duran, the associate chief medical officer at the UNM Children’s Hospital, said during the press conference. “This year, we are projecting that we will have a normal timeline for RSV, which normally starts around November and ends in early March.”
The virus is highly contagious and can live on surfaces, Duran said. Its symptoms include fever, cough, and sometimes more serious issues like dehydration. But there’s a new immunization to prevent RSV in healthy children, Duran said.
Called Beyfortus or nirsevimab, the new immunization is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for all infants under eight months old born during or entering the RSV season for the first time. The CDC recommends some older immunocompromised and high-risk children up to 19 months old get a dose, even if it’s their second RSV season.
Duran says to keep an eye on your infant throughout the RSV season. “If your child is showing signs of difficulty breathing, isn’t wanting to drink, or is showing signs of dehydration, that’s a great time to seek medical care in an emergency room.
There’s also a new RSV vaccine for adults, Dr. Denise Gonzales, the medical director of Presbyterian, said during the press conference. It’s for adults aged 60 or older.
“RSV can be very dangerous for certain adults, including those with chronic lung conditions such as asthma and COPD,” Gonzales said. “Patients can receive the RSV vaccine at their local pharmacy.”