More and more New Jersey residents are coming down with the flu, which already has claimed the life of a 4-year-old.

The state Health Department confirms influenza-like activity remains high in all parts of the state.

The total number of confirmed influenza cases in the state so far this season (since the beginning of October) has reached 4,880, compared to 3,664 cases at this same time last year.

But health officials point out the actual number of people coming down with the flu is much higher because many never get tested.

Influenza activity is up 33 percent this year and health officials are concerned things could get worse.

“There is likely going to be significant flu activity for many more weeks in the state of New Jersey,” said state Department of Health Deputy Commissioner Jackie Cornell during a visit to a health clinic in New Brunswick.

“We’re taking this seriously. We’re doing everything we can to keep this from reaching crisis levels.”

Cornell added, “I don’t think we’re at an alarmist rate right now. We’re doing everything we can to keep the numbers low.”

She said health officials are getting daily updates on influenza-like activity and they’re working hard spread the word about the importance of getting vaccinated and practicing good hygiene to limit the spread of illness.

Cornell said medical facilities around the state are isolating the increasing number of patients coming in with influenza so others won’t get it. Some New Jersey hospitals are so crowded with influenza patients that they are now at capacity.

She pointed out the young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable and it’s important to understand that “it’s not too late to get your flu shot.”

Cornell said one reason why more people are getting sick is because “the vaccine is not as effective against one particular strain of flu that we are seeing and that it’s a later blooming strain, so it’s a strain that is impacting folks right now.”

She said it’s believed getting a flu shot is between 30 and 60 percent effective in completely protecting you from influenza, but even if you do get the flu after getting a shot it’s believed the vaccine will provide some level of protection and you won’t be as sick as you otherwise might be.

She noted getting vaccinated also helps to protect the community where you live, enhancing so-called herd immunity because it will limit the spread of the illness.

Cornell pointed out flu activity this year may last into May.

“If you do get sick, stay home. Collect used tissues in a separate plastic bag so others won’t be exposed to your germs. Cover your coughs and your sneezes. Avoid touching your hands to your mouth, your eyes, your nose. Wash your hands frequently.”

After taking questions from reporters, Cornell herself got a flu shot.

She said the reason she didn’t get it earlier this winter is because she’s a single mother. She’s been extremely busy and like many people, she just didn’t have time.

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