Flu is widespread in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, according to the latest reports from state departments of health. That puts the region in step with 49 of the 50 states that have residents with flu from border to border. Hawaii is the exception.
On a separate measure of the proportion of patients with flu-like symptoms, New Jersey last week was among 32 states the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said had high activity. Pennsylvania was in the lower, “moderate” category.
There is evidence that this year’s flu is slowing, though that may be a statistical blip.
“We can’t quite say yet,” said Tina Tan, New Jersey’s state epidemiologist. “We have to see what we get next week.”
Steve Alles, director of disease control for the Philadelphia Department of Health, said cases in the city are still increasing and he expects that to continue for another two or three weeks. Flu usually does the most damage in February and March, he said.
While there have been reports of droves of sick people in other states — particularly California — public health reports from New Jersey and Pennsylvania reveal a fairly normal flu season. “I would classify this season so far as pretty typical,” Alles said. Flu does not always behave the same way throughout the country, he said.
“I think the next two or three weeks ahead of us are going to show us what this flu season is all about in this region,” he said.
As of last Saturday, Pennsylvania reported 32 deaths from flu with 25 of those in people 65 or older. New Jersey reports only children’s flu deaths. Like Pennsylvania, New Jersey has had one child die from the flu. Nationally, there have been 30 pediatric deaths.
Government officials don’t learn about every case of the flu, since many sufferers never go to the doctor. So, public health officials rely on reports of flu-like illness or actual flu tests among people who do go to doctors’ offices or emergency departments.
Charts of flu activity in New Jersey showed sharp increases in positive flu tests and emergency department visits between mid-December and last week. But, there was a slight dip between the first and second weeks of January. In Pennsylvania, flu activity continued to increase slightly last week.
Nate Wardle, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said officials won’t know for several weeks whether the season has peaked.
So far, the dominant type of flu is H3N2, a strain associated with more hospitalization and death than other varieties, Tan said. This year’s vaccine has been less effective than usual at preventing it, but public health officials say the shot may still help you get well faster. Plus, the shot protects against other strains of flu that may become more common later this winter and in the spring. So, they say, you should still get the shot if you haven’t already.
Vaccination isn’t the only way to combat the flu. Lots of hand washing is always a good idea. Cover your coughs if you’re sick and do other people a big favor by staying away from them. “If you’re sick,” Alles said, “you should stay home — from school, from work.”