TRENTON — A 4-year-old girl was the first fatal victim of the flu in New Jersey, where authorities have confirmed more than 5,000 cases of the virus this season.

State Department of Health spokeswoman Donna Leusner confirmed the girl in Central Jersey, who was not vaccinated, died as a result of the flu. She did not disclose her name or specific town.

Elsewhere in the country, a 6-year-old girl in North Carolina died last week while being transported to the hospital, her mother told WTVD TV.

The CDC reported that 1 in 15 doctor visits nationwide through mid-January were for symptoms of the flu. That's the highest level since the swine flu pandemic in 2009.

In New Jersey, health officials' latest report for confirmed cases ending the week of Jan. 20 showed Bergen County with the most cases with 661, followed by 583 in Monmouth County, 439 in Camden County and 437 in Ocean County.  New numbers are scheduled to be released on Wednesday.

"This flu season is definitely higher than recent years going back to 2009 with H1N1 when we had higher numbers," said Dr. Christopher Freer, chairman of the Emergency Department at Saint Barnabas Medical Center and director of Emergency Services at Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center. "There's been a few seasons to remember and this turning out to be one of them in terms of the sheer volume of cases we're seeing." 

Freer blames this year's strand of the flu, which the vaccine hasn't been the most effective at combating.

"Viruses are very smart. They mutate and change. You try to get it right and match it but sometimes it doesn't match exactly the way it should be."

It's not too late to get a flu vaccine for this season, according to Freer, but prevention is also key.

Freer cringes when he watches his son's high school basketball team when they're all sweaty and giving each other high fives.

"You really should be a germophobe this year. Better to not even shake someone's hand. Just give it like a fist air pump. You shake enough people's hands, you don't wash your hands, you put your hands in your eyes or your mouth and they have something on their hands that's a droplet, the flu will get to you," Freer said.

He also said to keep in mind that the flu comes around every year and to not succumb to the hype.

"There's a lot of people who get very anxious and scared that they're going to get the flu and die. It's a very small percentage that happens to."

According to the CDC symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills, although not everyone with the flu gets fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ