New Jersey Flu Rates Up From Last Year

By Briana Vannozzi

If you, too, rang in the new year with a cup of soup instead of a bottle of bubbly, health experts say you’re in good company. The viral season is upon us. It’s hitting hard and it’s hitting early.

“These organisms are plentiful, they’re opportunistic, they like being introduced to your eyes, your nose and mouth by your hand,” said Dr. Gary Munk, clinical director of clinical virology at HackensackUMC.

HackensackUMC’s director of clinical virology says New Jersey is seeing a flurry of flu about two months earlier than the typical onset.

“We’re getting slammed. Influenza is hurricane force,” Munk said.

Flu rates are highest in the northeast section of the state. According to New Jersey’s Department of Health, as of today there are 145 confirmed cases of influenza, though the department warns it can’t track every case and not all get clinically diagnosed.

“Currently, we’re seeing a type of type A influenza known as H3N2 virus. This is both good and a little bit of bad news. There does appear to be a pretty good match to the vaccine strain and it’s being used this year. But the bad news is typically H3N2 tends to cause a more severe illness, especially in young children and people age 65 and older so we’re a little bit concerned we may end up seeing a worse year in those populations this year,” said New Jersey Department of Health Medical Director of Communicable Disease Service Edward Lifshitz.

Hackensack tracked its own numbers.

“Last year’s numbers at this time could have been as low as five laboratory-established cases and in summary so far for 2016-2017, same time duration, we’re seeing upwards of 80,” Munk said.

“I didn’t get a flu shot. I didn’t think I needed it but now I’m looking at it and saying maybe I should have, but who knows. I’m not going to get it now. It’s too late right?” South Hackensack resident Joe Diraimondo asked.

It’s actually not. You can still be protected from other strains of the virus for the rest of the winter.

In fact, along with hand washing, doctors emphasize the vaccine is still your best defense. And it’ll protect you from the other three flu strains floating around. What it can’t do is stop the stomach bug.

“Just got over the stomach virus,” said Kathy Matthys. “The whole family.”

How did that make for the holidays? “Oh not for a very good one,” she said.

Norovirus is the dreaded stomach illness that inflames the GI tract. And it, too, has cropped up early. Typically 36 hours of vomiting, diarrhea, cough, even fever.

Norovirus is most commonly contracted in the winter months, though health experts warn it could hit at any time. And though the general public often refers to it as the stomach flu, it’s got nothing to do with influenza.

“It is a stomach bug, but we don’t call it stomach flu. It confuses people and it has a whole different array of symptoms,” Munk said.

And although we can expect to see another spike sometime in February, doctors remind us both viruses are preventable and manageable.