OCEAN COUNTY – This year’s flu season seems to be taking a toll on our local communities as we see record numbers of people visiting the doctor for influenza-like illness and even cases of influenza-related deaths.
According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, “For the week ending January 20, the proportion of people seeing their health care provider for influenza-like illness (ILI) was 6.6%, which is above the national baseline of 2.2% and is the highest ILI percentage recorded since the 2009 pandemic.”
New Jersey was one of 39 states reported to be experiencing high influenza activity as of the latest CDC FluView report. The FluView State Summary for week one (ending on Jan.6, 2018) in New Jersey, reported that there has been a staggering total of 1,183 influenza and pneumonia related deaths this flu season.
The CDC also noted that there have been 7 flu-related pediatric deaths so far, bringing the total number of flu-related pediatric deaths reported this season to 37. This number includes the death of a local four-year old girl from New Jersey.
“At this time, no other information can be provided,” regarding the four-year old girl, said Assemblyman Brian Rumpf (R-9th), who also serves as the Director of Administration and Program Development for the Ocean County Health Department. “What is important to note is that the whole State of New Jersey has wide spread flu activity and all residents…are encouraged to take Public Health recommendations to protect themselves and their family members.”
Rumpf noted that flu activity is widespread across the whole country this year, making this year’s flu epidemic so striking. “Whereas, in previous years we see higher flu activity in different parts of the country, at different times,” he explained.
The H3N2 strain of the influenza virus is what most people are being affected by, which causes more (and worse) cases and more visits to the doctor, according to the CDC.
The most popular method of preventing the flu is getting the flu vaccine. This is the best way of reducing your chances of getting sick and spreading the virus to others, according to Rumpf.
“Flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization, including among children and older adults, and is an important preventative tool for people with chronic health conditions,” he said.
Those who get the vaccination and still get sick, only experience mild illness compared to those who are not vaccinated. The reason that some people opt against getting the vaccine is because they fear the shot will give them the flu, said Rumpf, which is not true.
“The vaccines either contain inactivated virus, meaning the viruses are no longer infectious, or a particle designed to look like a flu virus to your immune system,” he explained. The viruses in the shots are altered so as to not inject someone with the flu.
This is the time of year where we are experiencing the peak of flu season. The CDC IFI surveillance has shown that, for our region, January is typically the peak time for flu activity.
Rumpf advised that everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated each year before flu activity begins. He also noted a few specific methods that we can take to avoid getting ourselves and others sick:
- Cover our nose and mouth with a tissue when we cough or sneeze
- Throw tissues in the trash after use
- Wash your hands often
- Avoid contact with others who are sick
- Stay home from work if you are sick
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
“We truly urge the public to not only get a flu shot, if they haven’t already, but to take sensible precautions,” when it comes to the flu, he said.