More people are reaching for cough lozenges, over-the-counter medications and tissues as influenza sweeps through the region, and experts say that might get worse after holiday gatherings.

Flu levels in New Jersey have reached moderate and high levels of activity, with more cases compared to this time last year. A rapidly developing flu season leaves experts predicting the coming months will be tough for anyone in the line of fire.

The biggest thing about flu season is educating people, said Dr. Manish Trivedi, division director of infectious disease at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center.

“When you can recognize the flu in yourself, you can recognize it in coworkers and family and help prevent the spread,” Trivedi said.

Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced earlier this month that flu activity was on the rise, and local experts say holiday events, which bring many people together in confined spaces, are the perfect environments for the virus to spread from person to person.

Influenza monitoring at the state Department of Health shows this season’s number of positive flu cases — 855 between Oct. 7 and Dec. 23 — is a 62 percent increase over the number of cases at this point last year.

Trivedi said the flu virus is significantly contagious as it can easily spread from person to person through droplets on surfaces and in the air from coughing, sneezing and lack of hand washing. Adults can continue to spread the virus up to seven days, while children can spread it longer.

The majority of state cases this year involves influenza A. CDC officials say the most common type A strain circulating nationwide is H3N2, which has a history of causing more hospitalizations and deaths.

Influenza B, typically seen toward the end of flu season, is accounting for the jump in New Jersey cases this season, state data show. There were 289 positive influenza B cases tested as of Dec. 23, more than five times the number seen at the end of 2016.

Trivedi said getting a flu vaccination is still the best way to prevent the virus or decrease the severity of illness. Vaccines do not guarantee prevention but can help create antibodies to fight the virus.

About 38.6 percent of all people 6 months and older were vaccinated by early November, according to the CDC, but data from previous seasons show more than half of all children become vaccinated by the end of the season.

“It’s a little disheartening to hear that, but with flu ramping up in December and January, we still have a long way to go,” he said. “Reports recommend getting vaccinated early, but getting one early or late is good to prevent it because we see cases of flu out through May.”

Overall vaccine effectiveness against all circulating flu viruses last season was 39 percent, according to the CDC. The three- and four-part vaccines offered this season protect against two influenza type A viruses, including H3N2, and two influenza type B viruses.

Health experts recommend that vulnerable populations especially, including children, pregnant women, older residents and people with medical complications, get vaccinated.

Trivedi said everyone should practice good hand washing to avoid the spread of germs and stay away from people who are sick. People sick with the flu should stay home from work or school and look into antiviral medications offered at doctors’ offices.

“Unfortunately, diagnosis (of the flu) during this time of year is the trickiest thing,” he said, “mostly because there are a lot of virus syndromes, but if you’re getting those fevers in the 102 to 104 range, chills, muscle aches and a runny nose, that’s indicative of the flu.”

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Previously interned and reported for, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe