Is high NJ flu activity linked to a lower vaccination rate?
For the first time during the 2016-2017 season, flu activity is considered high in every region of the Garden State.
The latest flu map from the New Jersey Department of Health, based on samples from schools, nursing homes, hospitals and labs, put the entire state in red. In the same week last year, flu activity was considered low or moderate.
According to early flu vaccination coverage estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was updated at the beginning of November, just under 40 percent of U.S. residents at least six months of age had received a vaccine for the 2016-2017 flu season, falling right in line with findings around the same time last flu season.
But among children, the early rate registered at 37.3 percent, the lowest it's been in at least the past four years.
While anyone can get sick from the flu — featuring chills, body aches and a fever as the main symptoms — the CDC noted young children are at higher risk for flu-related complications such as pneumonia.
Dr. Richard Mojares, medical director of Family First Urgent Care in Oakhurst, said the office has delivered about 80 vaccines since September, which lines up with last year's mid-January numbers.
Still, the office saw a jump in flu and other illnesses during the holiday season. Last season's spike came in March.
Mojares said some patients may wait until the weather turns frigid, or others start falling ill, before getting vaccinated. But that's the wrong move. The shot takes about two weeks to kick in anyway.
Parents who have not yet vaccinated their children for the flu should do so as soon as possible, Mojares said. The illness incubates for up to five days and a child can infect several peers before realizing any symptoms.
"They can spread it a lot faster than we can because they're not diligent with wiping their nose or washing their hands or covering their mouth when they sneeze," Mojares said of children.
The state does not track each and every case of confirmed influenza on a yearly basis. According to the state health department, there was one pediatric influenza death in each of the past two seasons.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.