At the start of the New Year, people often make resolutions to improve their health and well-being. These sometimes include losing weight, exercising more, eating better and reducing stress. Another important effort we can all make for ourselves and others, is to prevent spread of the flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.
Why does this matter? Flu rates in New Jersey and other areas of the nation were breaking records well before we flipped the calendar to January. The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) weekly Influenza and Respiratory Illness Surveillance Report has shown high flu activity throughout the state since the week ending November 12 and community rates of COVID transmission are high throughout much of New Jersey.
As we headed into 2023, across our healthcare system—including our primary care and urgent care services in Cape May County, and our Emergency departments—we saw nearly 1,000 positive flu cases weekly. It’s been at least a decade since we’ve seen numbers like this. We’re also seeing:
· The flu is hitting people more severely than usual—including people sick enough to require care in our ICUs.
· Increasing numbers of people are testing positive for COVID-19.
· Other respiratory viruses are spreading among adults and children—including respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Though we believe RSV cases have peaked, RSV still poses health risks.
What we are seeing mirrors what is occurring statewide and throughout the country. We could be in for a long, illness-laden winter. It’s important that we work together to keep ourselves and others safe and to ensure hospitals and other healthcare facilities have the capacity and resources to treat those most in need of care.
Seek care in the most appropriate setting. Your primary care provider can help you determine the most appropriate setting. If possible, consider a telehealth appointment so you can get care without leaving your home. If your provider wants to see you in person, wear a mask during the visit. If you or a loved one is experiencing severe flu complications, including shortness of breath, chest pain, weakness, dizziness, or other emergency health situations, call 911.
Include taking these precautions in your resolutions:
· Make sure you and loved ones six months and older get the 2022/2023 flu vaccine. Since the flu season goes through to April, getting your vaccine as soon as possible gives you the maximum protection. Even if you get the flu, being vaccinated can help to shorten the duration of your illness and lessen severity of your symptoms.
· Have all COVID-19 vaccines and boosters and all other age appropriate immunizations. Getting flu and other illnesses makes you more susceptible to getting COVID and vice versa.
· Protect people most at risk for complications from the flu and other respiratory illnesses, including babies, young children, older adults and those who are immunocompromised.
· Recognize flu symptoms—fever/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body/muscle aches, headache, fatigue, vomiting or diarrhea.
· If you have a fever stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, unless you need to leave home to get medical care.
· Stay home and avoid others if you, they or members of your immediately family are sick.
· If members of your immediate household are sick, wear a mask if you need to be in the same room. If possible, use separate bathrooms. Disinfect door handles and other high-touch areas and items – including remote control devices.
· If you think symptoms are due to allergies, alert your healthcare provider – they could be due to COVID or other illnesses.
· Cover your coughs.
· Sneeze into a tissue and throw it into the trash immediately.
· Wear a mask if you are in any setting that has a large number of people.
· Wash your hands and/or use hand sanitizer regularly.
Flu A was the predominant strain at the end of the year. We expect Flu B cases to increase in the months ahead. Based on CDC and NJ DOH data, we anticipate COVID cases will continue surging and will likely peak this month.
Any resolution you make to take care of your health and well-being for 2023 could help you to prevent spread of flu. The more we take care of ourselves mentally and physically, the stronger and more resilient our bodies will be at preventing and fighting illnesses.
AtlantiCare offers same-day Virtualist primary care appointments seven days a week and telehealth primary care appointments for current primary care patients. It also offers a “Hold My Spot” scheduling option at select Urgent Care Center locations, through which patients get an alert on their smartphone when it’s time to come in for their appointment.
To learn more, find an AtlantiCare Urgent Care Center near you, or book a Virtualist, telehealth or in person primary care appointment, visit atlanticare.org or call 1.888.569.1000.