As we head into the New Year, influenza levels in all parts of New Jersey remain high.

According to Dr. Ed Lifshitz, the director of communicable disease service at the New Jersey Health Department, a bad situation could turn even worse in the coming days because so many Garden State residents have been traveling and gathering as they celebrate the season with family and friends.

He said what’s continuing to unfold is certainly unusual because “we began seeing increases in cases way back in October, about two months earlier than we typically do. As far as what that will portend for the rest of the season, it’s harder to say.”

Sick man lying on sofa checking his temperature
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Is it the flu, COVID or some other virus?

Lifshitz pointed out the only way to know for sure what illness you have is to get tested because influenza, COVID, enteroviruses and other similar illnesses now circulating can all have the same symptoms, but sometimes they don’t.

“Classically, flu tends to hit more suddenly, with high fevers, chills, sore throat, cough, whereas COVID tends to come on a little bit slower, it can be associated with things like losses of taste and smell.”

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He said influenza causes a spike in temperature in many people but “it doesn’t have to, meaning there are people who have milder symptoms for a variety of reasons, immunization, prior immunity, their general immune system.”

He said if you do get a fever, “we would recommend staying out public (areas) for at least a day after the fever broke, and maybe longer if you’re concerned because you may be around more vulnerable people, such as the elderly.”

Lifshitz stressed said a mask makes sense because masks have been shown to help protect against all viruses.

A Man With Warm Clothing Feeling The Cold Inside House
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Too late to get a flu shot?

He said it is definitely not too late to get a flu shot.

“As long as the flu virus is circulating and certainly it is circulating now at high levels we would recommend those people who haven’t gotten the flu and haven’t gotten the flu shot to go ahead and get one.”

Best ways to fight off illness

Hand washing or using sanitizer is an important way to protect yourself against influenza.

That’s because if someone who is infected coughs or sneezes while they’re opening or closing a door, “you open that same door, now you have it on your hand and then you go ahead and you touch your eyes or your nose."

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