While much of the focus in New Jersey is on the novel coronavirus, we’re still dealing with high levels of influenza.

This year the flu is posing an elevated risk to children and younger adults.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows hospitalization rates among children ages six months to 4 years are currently the highest ever recorded for this time of year.

New Jersey state epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan said there have been 125 pediatric deaths because of influenza across the country and “to date, unfortunately, we have had two fatalities in the pediatric population that have been reported to our state Health Department.”

The total number of pediatric flu deaths recorded by the CDC so far this season is higher than in every season since reporting began in 2004-05, except for the 2009 pandemic.

So why are things so bad this year? Different strains of influenza may affect different ages groups in different ways.

“What we’ve seen this year is a predominance of influenza type B activity," Tan said last week. "That may have more of an impact on some of these younger individuals.”

She said the official start of spring is only a week and a half away, but “right now in New Jersey, we’re still in the middle of flu season and we’re still at the height of flu activity.”

Doctors recommend that everyone six months and older get a flu shot, but in households with young babies it’s particularly important for everyone to get vaccinated as a protective measure.

“That’s what we as adults who are responsible for the care of these kids and the community should be thinking about," Tan said. "It is not too late to get the flu vaccine as long as flu is circulating in the community.”

She also recommended frequently washing hands to avoid the flu or other respiratory diseases, and if you do get sick stay home and cover your cough and sneezes to help stop the spread of germs in your home.

Interim estimates of 2019-2020 flu vaccine effectiveness have been released by the CDC. So far this season, flu vaccines are reducing doctor’s visits for flu illness by 45% overall and 55% in children.

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