Another flu wave expected

February 13, 2010

New Jersey health officials say the country is due for a third wave of the pandemic flu and are reiterating their advice that immunization shots against regular influenza and H1N1 are the best protection against infection.

“You don’t want to get that,” said Bob Gogats, Burlington County Health Coordinator. “It makes you sick for quite awhile and immunization only takes a few minutes. Plus, it’s free. It doesn’t make any sense not to get it.”

Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties are providing free immunizations against both viruses at county-run clinics this month and in March. There are ample doses of both vaccines and supplies can be replenished if necessary, county officials say.

“People need to keep thinking H1N1 even when the usual flu season is over because it acts a little bit differently,” said Dr. Susan Walsh, a deputy commissioner for Public Health Services. “During this quiet period is exactly when they should get vaccinated,” she added.

Unlike regular flu, which peaks from January to March, H1N1 — also know as swine flu — strikes in waves lasting six to 12 weeks. The second wave of the H1N1 virus lasted from October into early December and health officials are now warning that the next bout is imminent.

The H1N1 virus is passed through casual contact with an infected person but risk can be reduced by regularly washing hands, sneezing into the crook of your elbow instead of your hand, staying home when sick and avoiding crowds and sick people.

The majority of flu cases in New Jersey and across the country are caused by the H1N1 virus, she said.

The H1N1 virus has killed 42 New Jerseyans — from a 3-year-old Bergen County girl to an 80-year-old Hudson County woman — since last spring’s breakout. Those deaths were reported across the state, with the tri-county area accounting for nine cases, or 20 percent, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services.

Some can shake an infection with bed rest while others require hospitalization that could include intensive-care treatment, Walsh said.

Ironically, New Jersey has been seeing “regional activity” — the second of three steps that measure intensity — of H1N1 virus for the past five weeks. Activity has slowed since January, Walsh said.

The highest-level category is “widespread activity” while “sporadic activity” is the lowest level.

“New Jersey was one of the last states to go to widespread activity,” she said. And although the H1N1 virus arrived later than in most other states, it has stayed around longer.

Gogats characterized the flu season this year as “unusual” for two reasons:

1. A 16 percent increase in hospital emergency room admissions was “four times higher than the highest we’ve ever had during our average flu season.”

2. The school absenteeism rates peaked to their highest point in 10 years, which was “more than double the historical average absenteeism for any week. . .”

Gogats remembers that people looking for H1N1 immunization shots last spring and summer were “beating the door down. Now you can’t get anybody to come in,” he said.


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