We are only days away from the unofficial start of the summer season — Memorial Day weekend — but flu season in New Jersey is still in full swing, which is anything but normal.

According to Dr. Ed Lifshitz, the medical director of communicable disease services for the state Health Department, influenza activity is still classified as high in all parts of the Garden State.

“Influenza activity (typically) would certainly be dropping off and we would expect it to be low or at most moderate, so it is pretty unusual for it to be towards the end of May and still have high activity," he said.

Why is this happening?

Dr. Lifshitz said last year there was essentially no flu season at all “because of all the COVID precautions people were taking. And it certainly is possible that since there was no flu circulating last year that there was somewhat less immunity amongst the population this year.”

He pointed out that different strains of flu circulate every year, and a fairly high percentage of the population will usually get infected. Even though it changes over time, “there still is some protection afforded to having had it in the past, so just that fact that almost no people got it at all last year, just means there were more people out there who weren’t developing antibodies to an influenza virus and therefore might be more likely to get it this year.”

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He suggested another factor is “fewer people are masking now compared to back in the winter when typically flu would be circulating (when activity levels were lower)."

Dr. Lifshitz also noted fewer people have gotten vaccinated for the flu.

He said another factor is this year’s flu vaccine does not appear to be quite as protective as in previous years so “even those people who have gotten the vaccine are more likely to come down with it.”

What kind of flu is floating around?

He said the predominant influenza strain right now is H3N2, one of the most common strains.

Lifshitz said it’s still not too late to get a flu shot and “in general we know that masking can help against respiratory diseases, including flu and COVID, both respiratory diseases.”

He noted influenza cases will probably start to drop off in the next few weeks, and activity levels would be expected to remain low during most of the summer, before starting to climb again later next fall and winter.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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