Flu season is underway in New Jersey, but it's off to a slow start, according to Dr. Tina Tan, New Jersey state epidemiologist.

(BartekSzewczyk, ThinkStock)

"We are at low activity with influenza-like illness reported throughout all over the state," Tan said.

New Jersey does not track individual cases of flu. However, Tan said, influenza-like illness patterns are monitored through various types of surveillance, such as school absenteeism and flu-like symptoms at long-term care facilities and at emergency departments.

"We do have some laboratories that send us some positive influenza samples from a representative sample of individuals that present to their hospitals, and indeed we are seeing a handful of people who are testing positive for influenza," Tan said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been monitoring the flu viruses that are circulating in the community in general, and also has been comparing what's been circulating with what's contained inside the vaccine itself, according to Tan.

"Based on some information from CDC right now, it looks like the preliminary data show that there is a good match to the vaccine," Tan said.

She said knowing how effective the vaccine is will be determined as the season progresses.

"Typically in New Jersey, we seek peaks of influenza activity around January-February," said Tan.

The influenza virus can mutate and take on different forms, which is why the seasonal flu vaccine has to be modified every year to reflect the changes that occur in the circulating virus, according to Tan.

Tan recommended getting a flu shot sooner than later, and pointed out it usually take about two weeks for an individual to get full protection from the shot itself.

"That's why the earlier that you can get the flu shot in the flu season, the better it is, as far as offering you protection for longer periods of time."

Influenza kills thousands of people each year and results in tens of thousands of hospitalizations every year, according to Tan.

She stressed the importance of everyone, 6 months and older, getting the flu vaccine.

"There's certainly some groups, some populations, that are at higher risk for complications and death and those include the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant people," Tan said.

Flu symptoms are usually different from a common cold and can include fever, cough, headache, fatigue and even gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhea, according to Tan.

Tan said common sense steps can be taken to avoid spreading and contracting the flu, such as staying home when sick, covering your cough and washing your hands.