The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that flu activity is now widespread across the United States. CDC officials said the level of flu activity reported in the first week of January is normally seen at the peak of a normal, moderately severe flu season.
Said CDC Chief of Epidemiology Dr. Joe Bresee: "While we can't say for certain how severe this season will be, we can say that a lot of people are getting sick with influenza and we are getting reports of severe illness and hospitalizations."
New Jersey is among the growing number of states listed with the highest level of influenza-like illness, according to the CDC's weekly FluView report.
According to the CDC, the current cumulative influenza hospitalization rate is 8.1 per 100,000 people, which Dr. Bresee categorized as high for this relatively early point in the flu season. The CDC also reports 18 pediatric deaths linked to the flu this season.
Here in New Jersey, hospitals in most areas of the state are reporting high volumes of influenza-like illness. In a few instances, hospital emergency departments have had to divert cases for a period of time because of extra high volume associated with the flu.
NJHA is in close communication with the state Department of Health to discuss the volume of flu cases and surge capacity issues and will continue to share any updates with members.
Like many hospitals in New Jersey and elsewhere in the country, Holy Name Medical Center has seen a significant increase in influenza-like illness.
Each flu season, we prepare to ramp up for the higher volume of patients, both in our emergency department and, if necessary, our inpatient beds. We prepare for the peaks and staff accordingly.
So while patients can be assured that we are here for them throughout flu season, an unexpectedly severe flu season can place added strain on our facilities and our staffing levels. We're prepared to care, but we will use a triage system to ensure that the most serious patients get the care they need first.
What you need to know:
Patients with flu-like symptoms should first seek the advice of their primary care provider or a community health center. In most instances, these primary care providers can deliver the healthcare services you need to treat the flu, without the long waits sometimes experienced in the hospital emergency department.
However, if you become acutely ill with the flu - including symptoms such as constant vomiting, difficulty breathing or symptoms that temporarily improve but return with a higher fever and worse cough - seek emergency care.
We take careful precautions within our facilities to limit the spread of flu. Some of these precautions include greater use of masks and respiratory equipment and isolation of patients. Individuals with the flu are contagious 24 hours before they are symptomatic, so it's important for hospitals to use these safeguards.
In addition, the old tried-and-true precautions such as washing your hands often are among the most effective ways to prevent the flu's spread.
In fact, New Jersey residents are a critically important part of protecting themselves and others from the flu. We urge them to take the following common-sense precautions:
Wash your hands often
Cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing
Stay home from work or school if you are sick
We also cannot overemphasize the importance of getting a flu shot. It's not too late to get a shot, and public health officials said this year's combination of flu vaccine has been very effective against the strains of flu circulating this season.
The flu shot is especially important if you are over age 65, have a chronic health condition that could be aggravated by the flu, are around infants less than 6 months of age or are around individuals with a chronic condition or compromised immune system.