Up until last week, there were very few cases of the flu being reported in Jersey this winter, but the situation is now changing.

State epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan says influenza activity is now classified as “moderate” – up from “low” – which is not really surprising because “what we traditionally see here in New Jersey is that around January or February is when we start to see the influenza activity kind of peak…and over the last week we’ve started to see an increase in influenza-like illness.”

She says “we definitely recommend that people – if they haven’t received the flu vaccine for this season – to get it now – it’s not too late – flu season goes through the end of March…it takes a little bit of time for the flu vaccine to take effect- so that’s why it’s important for people to get the flu shot as soon as they can – so they can give themselves protection as early as possible…the idea is that we want to expand the protection against flu to as many people as possible in the United States.

Dr. Tan points out the CDC is recommending everyone over the age of 6 months get vaccinated, but some groups are more at risk than others for complications from influenza illness, and “those include young kids – under the age of 5 – adults who are 65 and older- pregnant women and any individuals with underlying medical conditions such as asthma or chronic lung disease or people with weakened immune systems.”

She also says “right now it does appear that the vaccine does provide coverage for the virus strains that are circulating, but no vaccine is 100 percent effective – and because the vaccine generates an immune response, there is going to be some variability in how much people do get protected.”

In addition to getting a flu shot, Dr. Tan recommends “when you’re sick, stay home from work so you don’t get other people sick, take appropriate respiratory precautions such as covering your cough, covering your sneezes, and always wash your hands.”