Flu cases are exploding all over New Jersey.

The latest surveillance report from the state Health Department shows high levels of influenza in all areas of the state.

According to Gemma Downham, the corporate director of Patient Safety and Infection Prevention for AtlantiCare, influenza activity is now abnormally high, higher than it has been in a decade.

She said a growing number of patients are being treated “in our urgent cares, in our emergency departments, and we do have quite a lot of hospitalized patients with flu right now, which is really what we’re seeing as a national trend as well as a trend throughout the state.”

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She noted in addition to the flu, people are also getting sick with RSV, COVID and an assortment of rhino and enteroviruses.

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What should you do, where should go?

Downham said if you begin to feel ill you should not immediately head off to the nearest hospital ER.

“In healthcare right now we are seeing so many patients seeking care, so it’s really important to call your primary care provider if you have health concerns and really talk it through with them.”

She said they may decide to do a virtual consultation or have you come into the office for a flu or COVID test.

If you don’t have a doctor she said a visit to an urgent care clinic is certainly appropriate.

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When to go to the ER

Downham said people should head to the ER if they have “more severe symptoms or they’re just not getting better. They might have breathing trouble, chest pain or passing out or seizures or anything like that, we definitely want people to seek emergency care.”

“We are experiencing some longer wait times just like all of the other health systems are and we do want to encourage people to be patient," she said.

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Don’t kiss newborns

She said during the holidays, with so many gatherings, it’s very important to protect people that are most vulnerable to severe complications from respiratory diseases.

“We really encourage people to refrain from kissing newborns, maybe wear a mask around newborns, they don’t have an immune system just yet.”

She said it’s also important to protect elderly family members from exposure to viruses, “so if you’re sick your family would rather see you when you’re well, or maybe even arrange a zoom call into that family dinner.”

The CDC is now recommending mask-wearing in indoor settings with crowds because influenza levels are so high.

She said influenza sickness spreading so rapidly because flu shot rates are about 10% lower than normal this year, the A strain of flu that’s circulating tends to produce more severe symptoms in the very young and old, and natural immunity has waned over the past few years for everyone because of masking, social distancing and other pandemic protocols that kept people separated.

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