It appears flu activity, which has been declared this week as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is getting worse. 

Flu season
Flu season (Mario Villafuerte, Getty Images)

So far 22 states, including New Jersey, have reported an increased amount of flu-like illness activity.  In New Jersey, the flu is now officially classified as widespread, according to the state Department of Health.

Pharmacies across the state said they are seeing increases in orders for flu-related medications like Tamiflu.

There are three types of influenza virus, and the strain that is spreading this year, Type A (HSN2), tends to produce a severe flu season, according to state health officials.

Particularly troubling is the number of children that have died from the flu this season.  As of Dec. 30, 15 children have died from the flu.  During the 2013-2014 season, over 100 children lost their lives from the flu.  Older adults and those with compromised immune systems are also at a greater risk for developing the flu.

To protect children, parents should consider getting a flu shot for their kids. In addition to the shot, there are other things parents can do to try and prevent the flu, according to Dr. Tina Tan, the state's epidemiologist.

"Ensure that their children stay home when they're sick, that the children follow good personal hygiene precautions as well such as covering the cough and washing the hands all the time. That's always a good rule of thumb for preventing not only flu, but also other illnesses such as gastrointestinal illnesses that are circulating this time of the year as well," Tan said.

While some influenza experts have expressed concern about the flu season starting earlier over the past several years, Tan said what we are currently seeing in New Jersey is similar to what the state has seen in previous years.

"Given the nature of flu in general it's hard to say whether or not we're going to see the flu activity peak now and then kind of burn out a little bit later in the season or whether this is the beginning of increased activity for the rest of the season," Tan said.

And while the flu vaccine isn't a great match for the influenza strain that's circulating right now, Tan said it does offer some protection. In addition, strains may also appear in the weeks and months ahead that are covered by the flu vaccine.

According to the CDC, about 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal-flu related complications each year.

Click here to learn more about influenza,including its symptoms and treatments.





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