As the days grow shorter and colder, flu season in the Garden State is getting underway.

After having virtually no influenza activity for several months, state epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan said “we’re seeing low level influenza-like activity throughout the state, but no pockets of increased activity as of yet.”

Flu season can start any time in November, but it usually peaks in New Jersey sometime in January or February.

She noted the state Health Department does not monitor the individual number of flu cases in Jersey because people who get influenza may not go to their doctor, and some individuals may come down with respiratory diseases similar to the flu.

“So we look at emergency department visits for influenza-like illness, we look at school absenteeism, we also work with certain laboratories to monitor what flu strains they are seeing.”

Tan says the Health Department also works with “health care providers throughout the state to see how they’re monitoring flu throughout their communities, where they really know what’s going on in their patient population.”

She explained after gathering influenza data, state health officials “will look at the trend, and we compare it to previous flu seasons to see whether or not the flu activity is comparable to previous seasons, to give us a gauge of what we would actually expect to see during this time of the year.”

She pointed out it’s too soon to tell whether this year’s vaccine is a good match for the strain of flu that’s circulating, but even if you got a flu shot last year, it’s important to get another one now because the effectiveness of the vaccine wanes after a year.

“The earlier that you can get the flu vaccine, the better. You want to try and get the flu vaccine before the flu activity really picks up.”

Tan notes it usually takes a few weeks for antibody protection to build up.

She said even if the current vaccine being used is not a perfect match for circulating strains of influenza, getting a flu shot will usually offer some degree of protection, which means if you do get sick, the severity of the illness will probably be diminished.

The Health Department recommends anyone who is at least 6 months or older should get vaccinated.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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