Out of 43 cases of the flu found at UNM Hospital so far this flu season, more than half have been confirmed as swine flu.
Dr. Meghan Brett, the leading epidemiologist at the hospital, said 81 percent of the cases reported from late fall to early spring were caused by the H1N1 virus.
Brett said it’s not as bad as most people might think.
“There are two types of influenza: influenza A and influenza B,” she said. “And there’s actually multiple types of influenza A. For instance, last year, H3N2 was circulating. That was the strain of influenza that was affecting us, and now this year, it’s H1N1.”
The H1N1 strain of influenza is the same virus that sickened UNMH patients in the 2009 to 2010 flu season and again in 2010 to 2011, Brett said. This has been a very typical flu season, she said.
She said H1N1 is just as transmissible and contagious as last season’s flu strain was.
“It’s probably no different, in many regards, from most flu seasons,” says Brett.
Influenza A viruses are named for the number of proteins on the surface of the virus: hemagglutinin and neuraminidase. H1N1 has one hemagglutinin protein and one neuraminidase protein on the surface of each virus. H2N3 has two H proteins and three N proteins.
For an average flu season such as this year’s, UNMH takes certain precautions to make sure the flu does not spread among employees or patients, Brett said. She said UNMH advises people in the hospital to have good hand hygiene, and requires doctors and nurses who attend to hospitalized flu patients to wear masks, gloves and gowns to protect them from the virus.
Some students have expressed concerns about the number of H1N1 cases at UNMH.
Joey Vallo, a sophomore majoring in exercise science, said that the number might have been caused by UNM’s increasing population.
“The new H1N1 flu reaching the UNM campus is not surprising due to how fast the campus is growing and with students arriving,” he said. “It was just waiting for that one individual to attack whose body couldn’t fight it. On the other hand, I have to know that it is real, and I need to keep myself safe by watching what I do, washing my hands and keeping healthy.”
Caitlin Carcerano, a freshman majoring in art, said she is cautious but confident she will avoid attracting the H1N1 virus.
“It’s a little concerning, but I got my flu shot in September, so hopefully I’m protected,” she said.
Brett said that even though H1N1 is not as serious as many people believe, there are still practices that will help avoid contracting the virus.
“If people haven’t gotten their flu shots, that’s still not a bad idea,” she said. “People need to cover their cough, and make sure that they wash their hands well. I think that’s pretty good for protecting people.”