A woman in New Mexico has died of the flu, marking the nation’s first death as the flu season begins to ramp up.
The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) said Wednesday that the woman was 90-years-old and from Bernalillo County, which covers Albuquerque. The agency also said that she was one of five reported flu cases in the state so far this year. Three of the other cases were from Sandoval County, and one was from Santa Fe County.
Health officials urged residents to get the flu vaccines now.
From Prevention to Treatment: Everything You Need to Know About the Flu
“Flu can be fatal if left untreated or if a person – at any age – has a weakened immune system,” said NMDOH Cabinet Secretary Kathy Kunkel. “Getting your flu vaccination every year is the single best way to protect you, your family, and our state’s most vulnerable residents, from infants to the elderly.”
The last two flu seasons were difficult in the U.S. The 2017-2018 season was the deadliest in four decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with nearly 80,000 deaths.
Last year was milder, with 61,200 deaths, but it was the longest flu season in ten years, lasting from November to April.
The CDC recommends that people get the flu shot by the end of October for it to be most effective, and to reduce the chance of spreading the flu to others, especially children or the elderly who are more vulnerable.
“We know that antibodies peak four to six weeks after getting a vaccine and then slowly go down over the next six months,” Ann Falsey, MD, professor of medicine in the infectious disease unit at the University of Rochester Medical Center, previously told PEOPLE.
But if people do not get their shot by the end of the month, they should go whenever they can. And they shouldn’t worry that the vaccine gives them the flu — that’s a myth.
“Because the virus is inactive, it absolutely cannot transmit the infection,” Dr. Denise Pate, Internal Medicine Doctor at Medical Offices of Manhattan, previously told PEOPLE. “I think it’s important to recognize the side effects of getting the shot versus what the actual flu is.”
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