New Mexico Program Aims to Cut Influenza and Pneumonia Death Rates Among Latino Seniors

New Mexico’s health department is kicking off a pilot program in two counties that are experiencing an inexplicably high number of pneumonia and influenza deaths.

Luna and Rio Arriba counties were chosen for the program because its pneumonia and influenza death rate for seniors was double the national average. About 30 Hispanic seniors have been dying from the infectious diseases each year in the counties – and the national average is under 15 deaths per year.

Throughout the state, more than 75 percent of pneumonia and influenza deaths were Hispanics older than 65.

The pilot programs aim to raise awareness about the contagious respiratory illnesses. The health department plans to increase vaccination rates in the counties as well as improve health literacy.

Both infections can be fatal but can be prevented by vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all seniors receive a pneumonia vaccine since they are the ones most at risk of developing complications for it.

About 1.2 million people in the U.S. were hospitalized with pneumonia in 2007, according to the CDC, and more than 52,000 people died from the disease.

The CDC says more than 200,000 people are hospitalized each year with seasonal influenza, and more than 36,000 died from influenza related causes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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