Interactive Map: New Jersey’s Flu Misery Index

A Misery Index for New Jersey counties. The index, created by NJ Spotlight, represents the sum of the percentage of people in long-term care facilities and seen in hospital emergency rooms with flu-like illnesses and the school absentee rate last week. It most likely does not count all instances of flu-like illnesses in the counties as not all facilities report data to the state Department of Health. To see specific data for the counties for the last two weeks and for last year, click on a county.

Source: NJ Spotlight analysis of NJ Department of Health’s Respiratory Virus Surveillance Report for the Week Ending 1/12/13

Miserable is how untold numbers of people are feeling throughout New Jersey as they suffer through a week or so of coughing, runny nose, achiness, and fever due to influenza and other respiratory diseases.

But some counties seem to have a little more misery than others.

New Jersey tracks the flu and similar illnesses using a sentinel surveillance system, which includes only a sampling of the activity seen in schools, hospitals, and doctors’ offices. It does not try to provide a complete picture, but is instead a “trend snapshot,” said Donna Leusner, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health.

So the most important news out of this week’s surveillance report is that flu activity is high in all five health regions defined by the state, with more than 8 percent of patients in hospital emergency rooms on average complaining of flu-like illnesses — a stat that goes as high as 15 percent in Ocean County.

“New Jersey’s healthcare facilities and medical officers continue to see large numbers of visits due to influenza-like illness,” said Mary E. O’Dowd, the state health commissioner. Urging people to get vaccinated, O’Dowd said that this year’s vaccine “is a very good match for the strains of flu that are circulating in the community right now.”

The weekly surveillance report includes information on flu-like illnesses treated in hospital emergency rooms and long-term care facilities, along with school absentee rates, by county, which NJ Spotlight aggregated to arrive at an unscientific flu-misery index.

In addition, the report includes the number of people tested and number of positive results for respiratory syncytial virus and influenza, though these numbers do not reflect the actual numbers of flu sufferers because not every doctor reports results to the state or even tests every patient suspected of having the flu or RSV.

While incomplete, the data provide a snapshot of those suffering from flu-like illnesses in the counties. To see all the data from last week’s report for any county, as well as positive test results and hospital visits from the prior week and from the first week of January 2012, click on the county. Or you can view the full report.

If you share a keyboard or device with someone else, you might want to wipe it down first and wash your hands after using it and before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth — just in case your colleague or loved one has a respiratory illness you’d rather not get. While you’re at it, make sure to cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze and cough and stay home when you are sick to help prevent the further spread of misery.

Once you’ve got your keyboard properly sanitized, you can find other flu-fighting tips at these websites:

Flu Vaccine Finder

The Flu: What to Do If You Get Sick

General Information About Seasonal Influenza