Now that it’s October, the days are getting shorter, Halloween is almost here, and we’re already getting reports of the flu in the Garden State.

“Right now we are seeing influenza-like illness activity at low levels throughout the state,” said State Epidemiologist Tina Tan.

Typically, flu season starts right around this time of the year and lasts until late March, however it can and does vary.

“We tend to see highest activity in January and February, but you never know when activity might really peak,” said Dr. Tan. “Flu activity is unpredictable, so that’s why the earlier you can get your vaccine in the flu season, the earlier you’ll be afforded protection.

To try to make the vaccine as effective as possible, researchers took a close look at what was circulating worldwide several months ago before they came up with a formulation for the yearly seasonal flu vaccine.

“It’s too early to know whether what we’ve got right now for the flu vaccine is going to cover what is circulating in the community,” Tan said. “It’s our best estimate and our best guess as to what’s out there.”

Tan says that trying to predict how well a vaccine will protect you is difficult, because there are a lot of variables involved.

“Sometimes flu vaccines might be more effective in certain populations, like younger, healthy people versus older people, or people with weakened immune systems,” she said.

While the flu vaccine may not be perfect, it is the most effective tool for stopping the spread of influenza.

“By getting a flu shot you provide protection not only to yourself but to your family and your community around you because of what’s called herd immunity, where you’re basically providing a cocoon around individuals,” she said. “Particularly those who are too young to get vaccinated or who can’t get vaccinated for other medical reasons.”

She said last year the flu season peaked later than it usually does, late February into March in New Jersey as well as across the country.

“Flu is unpredictable, we don’t know when flu is going to pick up in activity,” she said. “It could peak earlier, it could peak later, so that‘s why it’s important for people to get vaccinated as soon as they can.”

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