WESTFIELD, NJ -- In line with both statewide and nationwide data, our area is seeing an increase in confirmed flu cases, according to the Westfield Regional Health Department, which also serves Chatham, Fanwood, Garwood, Mountainside, New Providence, Roselle Park and Summit.

“It’s here. It’s in New Jersey. It’s in all of our towns,” said Laura Scanlon, the public health nursing supervisor at the Westfield Regional Health Department, noting that both norovirus and upper respiratory cold cases are also on the rise.

According to Scanlon, this is typically the time of year when confirmed cases tend to spike, but she added that an exact number in our location is difficult to find.

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“There really isn’t a way to get an exact number. True numbers are tough to get because it is under-reported,” she said.

Statewide, more than 2,800 cases have been reported over the last four weeks, according to the New Jersey Department of Health and Communicable Disease Service. The Center for Disease Control reported 211 flu-associated deaths nationwide in the week leading up to Christmas.

The Westfield Regional Health Department recommends that people ideally get vaccinated in September, October or November.

“It can take up to two weeks to be fully protected by the vaccine,” said Scanlon, who added that getting the vaccine early in the season allows our bodies to build up a stronger immunity to the virus.

But Scanlon still recommends getting a flu shot if you haven't already. The state projects flu season to last through March 31, but it can go longer, she said, “So even if they get it now, it still affords them the protection from the virus.”

While it is still possible to get the flu after being vaccinated, Scanlon said that in those cases the individual will often heal faster and be less impacted than someone who has not received the vaccine.

“Without the vaccine, they could be out for a week or so,” she said.

The flu vaccine changes every year and, according to Scanlon, the components are determined by what’s happening across the world.

“They look at what’s going on in Asia in the previous year to get a sense of what will be coming to the northeast the following season,” she said. “It’s an educated guess, so to speak.”

The typical vaccines are either trivalent or quadrivalent, named for the number of strains included in the vaccine.

“We prefer people to get the quadrivalent vaccine,” said Scanlon. She said that it provides better protection and is available to children six months or older. Seniors are often offered a “high dose” vaccine option, a trivalent vaccine. The benefit of the “high dose” option is that it has a more efficient immune response, said Scanlon. Instead of a two week window until optimal immunity, the “high dose” for seniors reaches optimal immunity in one week, which might be better at this point in the flu season, said Scanlon.

What can you do to prevent the flu?

According to Scanlon, it’s much like any other cold or illness:

  1. Avoid close contact with anyone who is ill.
  2. Stay home when you are sick.
  3. Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  4. Wash hands regularly and do it well.
  5. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
  6. Maintain healthy habits — eat healthy, get plenty of sleep.
  7. Get vaccinated.

The Westfield Regional Health Department has a limited number of vaccines available at this time for a $25 cash payment. If you are interested in getting vaccinated, call Scanlon at 908-789-4070 x4074 to make an appointment (no walk ins). To receive the vaccine, the recipient must be six months or older.

You can also visit Findaflushot.com to find a local flu vaccine provider.

Do you think you may already have the flu? Scanlon said that there are some products that can be used to help treat the virus, but that they may have side effects. The best course of action is to speak with your physician regarding treatment options.