Health care providers preparing for surge of flu cases

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

The New Mexico Department of Health is warning local health care providers to look for a surge in flu cases in upcoming weeks, including the H1N1 strain.

Director of Marketing for Roosevelt General Hospital Gay Weese said the surge is normal for flu season.

“Flu season works in waves,” she said. “We’ve seen a decrease in patients with flu like symptoms but we’re getting ready for more.”

Both Roosevelt and Plains Regional Medical Center have received shipments of the H1N1 vaccine but said the batches were earmarked for health care workers and pregnant women.

Neither hospital has received a time frame as to when they’ll receive more H1N1 vaccinations for the public.

Brad Treptow, spokesperson for Presbyterian, the parent company of PRMC, said the hospital received 140 doses to administer to front line direct-patient care staff. The doses were given to health care workers in intensive care, emergency, pediatrics, pulmonary and labor and delivery departments. The hospital is hoping to complete the vaccination of staff by the end of the week.

“Those are the groups that are at the highest risk,” Treptow said. “The way the flu is going right now, we want to make sure we keep our health care employees healthy and capable to care for the community.”

About three weeks ago, Treptow said, PRMC saw a surge of about 30 to 40 percent of patients presenting with flu-like symptoms and that volume has been holding steady.

“As we all know, when the flu starts spreading, it spreads quickly,” he said. “We encourage those that can be treated at home to do so if it’s a mild case without any underlying conditions.”

Treptow said the system of hospitals is monitoring any communication from the Department of Health for any information regarding H1N1 vaccinations and is following their directions for disbursement.

The Department of Health expects to receive additional allocations of vaccine each week and estimates New Mexico will receive 1.2 million doses by the end of January 2010, according to a press release from the NMDEH.

The health department is encouraging people to call their primary healthcare providers to ask if they are providing the H1N1 vaccine.