What You Should Know for the 2013 – 2014 Influenza Season (Flu) 09-25- 2013

The timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary from season to season. Flu activity most commonly peaks in January or February in New Jersey, although it can begin as early as October and continue to occur as late as May. The timing, severity and length of the season may vary from one year to another.
Flu viruses are constantly changing so it’s not unusual for a new flu virus strain to appear each year. The vaccine manufacturers predict the most likely strains of influenza to circulate each season. The vaccine for this season contains the 2 types of influenza A and 1 type of influenza B. There is a new vaccine this year that contains 2 types of influenza A and 2 types of influenza B.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. CDC does not recommend one vaccine over another. Talk to your doctor or nurse to help you decide which vaccine is best for you.
Everyday preventive steps that are also recommended include staying away from sick people, washing your hands thoroughly and frequently to reduce the spread of germs and if you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading flu to others.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between the common cold and the flu. Both are respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. In general, the flu is much worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and dry cough are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu and the symptoms are more likely to be a runny or stuffy nose. Colds do not generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalizations. To know if it is flu, special tests must be done within the first few days of illness. Many physicians offer rapid influenza tests in the office to determine if it is flu.
There are prescription medications called “anti viral drugs” that can be used to treat the flu. When used for treatment, antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days. They can also prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia. They are most effective when used within the first day or two after symptoms appear. If you think you have the flu, check with your medical doctor for advice.
For more detailed information on influenza, visit CDC at www.cdc.gov/flu.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

West Nile Virus

“September is the peak of West Nile Virus (WNV) season so I encourage everyone to take steps to prevent mosquito bites by wearing insect repellent with DEET and to limit time outdoors during dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active,” said Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd.
The Department is reminding residents to take the following additional steps to protect against West Nile Virus including:

  • Maintain screen doors and windows
  • Use insect netting on infant carriers and strollers
  • Wear long sleeves and pants whenever possible

In July, the Department launched a public awareness campaign alerting people to the dangers of West Nile Virus. Ads have been featured on NJ Transit trains and buses since July and Public Service Announcements in English and Spanish began airing last month. Additional WNV information is available on the Department’s Sandy recovery website at: http://www.state.nj.us/health/er/hurricane_recovery_resources.shtml

Last year was the most active West Nile Virus season in the state’s history with 48 cases and six deaths. In 2011, there were seven cases and no deaths. In 2010, there were 30 cases and two fatalities.
New Jersey residents can also take steps to reduce the mosquito population by:

  • Disposing of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers that have accumulated on your property
  • Removing standing water from any tires on your property. Used tires are a popular breeding ground for mosquitoes
  • Drilling holes in the bottom and elevate recycling containers that are left outdoors
  • Cleaning clogged roof gutters on an annual basis, particularly if the leaves from surrounding trees have a tendency to plug up the drains. Roof gutters are easily overlooked but can produce millions of mosquitoes each season
  • Turning over plastic wading pools when not in use. A wading pool becomes a mosquito producer if it is not used on a regular basis
  • Turning over wheelbarrows and not allowing water to stagnate in bird baths
  • Cleaning and chlorinating swimming pools that are not being used. A swimming pool that is left untended can produce enough mosquitoes to result in neighborhood-wide complaints. Be aware mosquitoes may even breed in the water that collects on pool covers

Many people infected with West Nile Virus do not become ill and may not develop symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may be mild or severe and show up three to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Mild symptoms include flu-like illness with fever, headache, body aches, nausea and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Severe symptoms include high fever, neck stiffness and swelling of the brain (encephalitis or meningitis) which can lead to coma, convulsions and death. Older persons or people with weaker immune symptoms may have more severe symptoms.

Anyone who suspects they may have WNV should visit their health care provider for further evaluation and potential testing for WNV. There is no treatment for WNV, and mild to moderate infections usually resolve within 7 to 10 days. More severe infections may require hospitalization and supportive treatment.
For more information on West Nile Virus, please visit: http://www.state.nj.us/health/cd/westnile or http://www.nj.gov/dep/mosquito.