CLOVIS – New Mexico health officials urged eastern New Mexico residents to stress sanitation and hygiene, and stay home if they get sick, but don’t panic in the face of the H1N1 virus also known as swine flu.
Gov. Bill Richardson, flanked by top state health officials, addressed the region on Monday morning at Clovis Community College.
He reminded residents to “cough or sneeze in the crook of your elbow” and wash hands frequently.
Richardson said the state has long had planning groups working toward the possibility of a pandemic flu, and though the current situation is classified as an outbreak, “over the past week and a half, we’ve seen our efforts pay off.”
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Richardson said.
Curry, Roosevelt and Quay counties are not among the six New Mexico counties that have submitted probable H1N1 cases for testing.
New Mexico has three confirmed cases of the flu virus, in Valencia and Socorro counties, and officials are evaluating about a dozen other probable cases in other counties.
Richardson said schools have been closed in two counties strictly as a precautionary measure to prevent kids from congregating and increasing possible exposure to the virus.
New Mexico Secretary of Health Dr. Alfredo Vigil cautioned citizens to stay alert.
“People need to be paying attention, following instructions,” he said. “But this is not a time for panic.”
“Our philosophy is one of trying to balance the welfare of the public against what we know is a significant stress,” he said.
Vigil said guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control give some flexibility, which is why different states are handling things different and making different decisions.
The reason the virus is causing such concern, Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Mike Landon said, is because U.S. residents do not have an immunity to it and officials have no way of knowing how far it could reach.
Between 30,000 and 40,0000 die each year from flu, with around 200 of those being New Mexico residents, he said.
“Because none of us have an immunity, it is possible the number of deaths could increase proportionately,” Landon said.