The state Health Department has raised the level of flu activity from moderate to high in Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties, based on surveillance data reported for the week ending Friday by emergency departments, long-term-care facilities and schools.
“There has been a significant uptick in the number of positive influenza tests,” said Dr. Neil Gaffin, infectious disease specialist at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood. In fact, last week Gaffin shared in the misery many patients are complaining about — coughs, a high fever, body aches and chills. The physician, who was vaccinated, said he spent three days in bed with the bug.
Experts attribute the calmer season to the higher protection level of the vaccine this year and to warmer weather, which lures people outside so the risk of spreading the virus is contained.
But the number of ill patients “is creeping up,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bienstock, of PediatriCare Associates. “You can tell when you walk in the examining room, they are lying on the table, not even texting. The practice vaccinated more than 1,000 children at a fair in September.
Thirty percent of the patients tested for flu at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center last week were positive, compared with just 5 percent in the previous month, said Dr. Hillary Cohen, chief of emergency medicine.
“We are certainly seeing flu, mainly Type A influenza,” said Dr. Ralph Caprio of Notchview Pediatrics. “We were not seeing a whole lot after the Christmas break when it usually starts, but it’s here now.”
Dr. Thomas Birch, an expert in infectious disease and the on-call doctor at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck says more cases are coming in. “The Emergency Department is very busy.” Meanwhile, the hospital is testing another medication to be used with Tamiflu, which is typically prescribed within 24 hours of onset of symptoms to be most effective, Birch said.
The main virus circulating this season is H1N1, the same A-strain that caused the pandemic swine flu in 2009 that resulted in 61 million cases of illness, 274,300 hospitalizations and 12,500 deaths nationally, according to the CDC.
Everyone 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated every season, including pregnant women.