Respiratory illness and stomach ache season in New Jersey appears to be in full swing, as rates of flu, RSV, COVID and norovirus have increased in recent weeks and will likely increase after holiday gatherings and travel.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked New Jersey as high for respiratory illness and the New York metropolitan area as very high.
The rate of positive tests for influenza and RSV – respiratory syncytial virus, which can produce everything from cold-like symptoms to more serious lung illnesses – has increased significantly in recent weeks after a more normal seasonal pattern generally observed before the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Experts say it’s too early to tell how great the season will be, as it often extends into the following year. Emergency room visits have increased in recent weeks. But 67 of New Jersey’s 70 hospitals were operating normally as of Wednesday morning, with only three ambulances diverted due to the high volume of patients.
Rates of norovirus, or stomach viruses, are increasing
Rates of norovirus — the virus often called stomach virus — have increased nationally in recent weeks, causing more people to run to the bathroom, but at levels that appear to follow its seasonal pattern.
Flu rates highest in densely populated New Jersey counties
Flu rates in New Jersey were high in the most densely populated areas, including Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties, as well as Union, Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean, according to the department’s latest data of Health.
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The rest of the state has seen moderate spread. That’s a stark contrast to last year, when flu season started early, in October, and most of New Jersey began seeing high rates by mid-November.
Three years ago, flu rates were extremely low as schools remained closed and most New Jersey residents still practiced social isolation.
The main COVID variant is JN.1
The state has seen at least 17 COVID variants spread across the state in the past two months. Nearly all are subvariants of the omicron variant that spread like wildfire in late 2021. The main variant — JN.1 — accounted for 57% of cases over the past two weeks, according to CDC data.
COVID rates are low from the northern half of the state to Ocean County, with fewer than 10 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents. South Jersey has an average distribution, with 10 to 20 admissions per 100,000 residents, according to the latest data from the state health department.
COVID hospitalizations doubled in December
COVID-related hospitalizations have doubled since late November and stood at 969 statewide as of Tuesday, with 66 of 70 hospitals reporting. Despite this increase, this number remains lower than the 1,427 recorded last year on the same date and the 3,712 on December 26, 2021.
As of Tuesday, just 33 COVID patients were on ventilators and 114 were in intensive care — more than double the number from a month earlier, but 54 fewer than the same day last year.
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