By Cleve Bryan

VINELAND, N.J. (CBS) — Washing hands…It’s a simple lesson that makes a big difference.

Proper hand washing can help prevent your little one from missing a week of school, or you from missing a week of work for illness.

Right now, many New Jersey schools, including Max Leuchter Elementary in Vineland, are seeing double-digit absentee rates because of the flu and norovirus.

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“Since we got back from break, I’m sending home at least two or three students a day,” said Rhonda Curcio, the nurse at Max Leuchter Elementary.

This week, the State Health Department reported every county in New Jersey is at the highest level of flu activity. “We get reports every week from the state of New Jersey so this is our first week with a ‘high’ rate of flu in southern New Jersey,” explained Megan Sheppard, the Cumberland County health officer.

Officials say it isn’t unusual for flu season to spike in January, just not what we saw last year when the bulk of sickness held off until March. They say preliminary indications show this year’s vaccine is effective in stopping the flu thread hitting our region.

Although you can’t get a nasal vaccine like year’s past, officials still recommend getting a shot, especially children and seniors.

Whether flu or norovirus, which has no vaccine, good hygiene is the best line of defense. Soap, sanitizer and keeping your hands away from the “T” zone, which is the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth.