Providence: Director of Health Michael Fine, MD today declared the flu to be widespread again in Rhode Island. This declaration triggers the requirement that healthcare workers who have not been vaccinated against the flu wear surgical masks during direct patient contact.
Rhode Island is seeing a second wave of flu that is even more intense than the first. The dominant strains in this late-season wave have been H3N2 -- which has a great impact on the elderly -- and influenza B.
The majority of the 13 flu-related deaths this season have been people in their 80s and 90s. There have been 464 flu-related hospitalizations this season. Seventy of these hospitalizations occurred between April 6 and April 12 (the most recent reporting period).
"This continues to be a dangerous flu season for the elderly," Dr. Fine said. "Vaccination is important for everyone older than 6 months of age, but it is particularly important for the elderly, people who are around the elderly, and healthcare workers. It's not too late to get a flu shot. When you get vaccinated, you're protecting yourself and you also could be saving the life of a grandparent, patient, neighbor, or friend who is especially vulnerable this year."
The masking requirement for healthcare workers will remain in effect until the widespread declaration is lifted. The flu was also widespread this year from January 8 until February 27.
There is still plenty of flu vaccine in Rhode Island. This year's flu vaccine protects against all of the dominate strains in circulation. Children can be vaccinated at doctors' offices. Adults can be vaccinated at doctors' offices and at pharmacies.
In addition to healthcare workers and the elderly, vaccination is especially important for pregnant women, young children, and people with chronic medical conditions such as heart, lung, or kidney disease, diabetes, and asthma.