PROVIDENCE – Michael Fine, MD, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (HEALTH), has issued a Declaration of Widespread Flu Incidence Statewide. This declaration triggers Rhode Island's new regulations requiring all healthcare workers who have not been immunized against influenza to wear a surgical mask during all times of direct patient contact.
"Flu is here in Rhode Island, and all signs indicate that this flu season is expected to be more severe than those in recent past," said Dr. Fine. "We encourage all Rhode Islanders to protect themselves and those around them by being immunized against influenza. Our healthcare workers have an obligation to protect those they care for by getting immunized or wearing a mask as required by the Department of Health's regulations."
"Direct patient contact" is defined as routinely anticipated face-to-face contact with patients, such as when entering a patient's room, serving food to patients or participating in group patient activities.
Vaccines are one of the best ways to prevent the flu, and to avoid spreading it to people at high risk of flu-related complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this year's flu vaccine is well matched to the current strain of influenza (H3N2). HEALTH is urging all Rhode Islanders to be immunized this week for maximum protection against illness. In addition, HEALTH urges all healthcare workers and healthcare facilities to encourage hand washing and continue infection control measures.
Flu vaccine is generally recommended for people ages six months and older. It is especially important for healthcare workers, pregnant women, people over the age of 50, nursing or group home residents, and people with chronic conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes, asthma, anemia, blood disorders, or weakened immune systems to be immunized against flu. In particular, those who live with or care for those who are at high risk of flu-related complications should also be immunized.
Symptoms of influenza can include fever, cough, head and body aches, fatigue and runny nose. Some people also have vomiting and diarrhea.
Immunizations are available throughout Rhode Island, including through your primary care provider, at flu vaccination clinics, and at local pharmacies.
For more information about influenza or to find a vaccination clinic near you, visit www.health.ri.gov/flu