With the official start of winter only a couple of weeks away, cold and flu season has arrived in New Jersey, but infection rates could be much lower than in previous years.

According to state epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan, Health Department surveillance of influenza-like activity at nursing homes and schools remains low across Jersey, and the pattern could continue throughout the winter months.

“Hopefully with everybody taking COVID precautions this will also have a nice impact on keeping influenza activity at bay as well,” she said ."precautions that we take for COVID-19 would be beneficial for preventing other respiratory virus illnesses such as flu, or rhinovirus or other common cold viruses that are circulating.”

She noted your hands can get infected with all kinds of viruses all the time. The good hygiene practices many have adopted to reduce their chances of novel coronavirus infection help prevent other illnesses as well.

“You might not even be aware of what you’re touching and whether or not there might be contamination,” Tan said. “You know sometimes people are not aware that they touch their eyes and their mouth and their nose, and that can create a source of infection.”

She said said it’s obviously important to wear a mask and practice social distancing, but it’s equally important to frequently wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

She also stressed predicting what flu season will look like is basically impossible because it depends on the type of influenza that’s circulating, “how well people are taking precautions to protect themselves from flu and other respiratory viruses, what kind of baseline immunity people might have, and how well we’re vaccinated in the community as well.”

She said the predominant strain of influenza circulating right now is type A, but that may change later in the season. This year’s flu vaccine is expected to protect against strains of A and B influenza, and the vaccine “is usually pretty good at reflecting what’s circulating in the community.”

Tan added New Jersey residents should also get flu shots to maximize protection, and said an ample supply is available.

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