‘Community Immunity’ Protecting Los Alamos Against Flu

By Dr. Erin Bouquin
Los Alamos Urgent Care

During the past week, nearly half of the states across the nation reported widespread flu activity. Many of the reports show the 2009 H1N1 virus being the most prevalent strain. This strain is taking a toll on younger children and working-age adults across our continent.

The good news for Los Alamos is that we had an aggressive vaccine program in 2009 and again this season so we have a “community immunity,” which seems to be protecting us.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) measures activity by the percentage of clinic visits for flu-like illness. FluView is an excellent resource for this information and it is reported in a variety of forms including regional statistics and severity metrics. In our community Los Alamos Medical Care Clinic reports statistics to the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) who in turn reports those statistics to the CDC.

As a state we have seen our first death due to influenza and it was in our neighboring Santa Fe County. According to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) the  most common underlying conditions in adults hospitalized for flu were obesity, metabolic disorders, and cardiovascular disease. For kids they were asthma, obesity, and neurologic conditions. However, 43.5 percent of hospitalized youngsters had no known chronic medical condition that would make them more vulnerable to flu complications.

The CDC has said that although the 2009 H1N1 disease patterns are similar to those seen during the pandemic years, so far there are no signs of changes in the virus, the brisk flu activity isn’t surprising at this time of year, and it’s not too late for people to be vaccinated. The vaccine that was tested and produced for this years flu season included coverage for the strain that is being seen throughout the continent.   

In 2009 H1N1 appeared in about 200 countries, killed about 4,000 people and infected millions of others. Los Alamos responded to that experience with a very focused and sustained immunization effort. It appears that our efforts since 2009 have yielded better outcomes for our town.  

The lesson going forward? We need to support and promote vaccine programs. Immunization campaigns continue to be threatened by alarms spread by those who would make us fear vaccines more than the illnesses they prevent.