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Amid Increases in Seasonal Illnesses, Rhode Islanders Urged to Practice Good Health Habits

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is urging everyone to practice good health habits to prevent the spread of illnesses, which includes getting vaccinated against the flu if you have not yet been vaccinated. In the last ten days Rhode Island has seen significant increases in the amount of norovirus, flu, and other respiratory illnesses circulating throughout the state.

"The flu is a very serious virus that can send someone to the hospital, and norovirus can be dangerous for some people too," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "Both viruses spread very easily. However, by taking a few simple preventive steps, you can help keep both yourself and people around you healthy and safe."

Flu vaccine is the best protection against the flu. The flu is in Rhode Island most years through the end of the spring. By being vaccinated now, people can still get several months of protection. Flu shots are available in pharmacies and doctors' offices. Unvaccinated healthcare workers are currently required to wear masks when engaged in direct patient care. If taken within 48 hours of getting symptoms of the virus, antiviral drugs like oseltamivir and zanamivir may reduce some of the symptoms.

Norovirus is a highly contagious stomach illness that can cause people to have extreme vomiting or diarrhea for 24-28 hours. (It is often called by other names, such as viral gastroenteritis, stomach flu, and food poisoning.) Norovirus is found in the stool and vomit of an infected person. People can become infected by eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus; touching surfaces or objects that are contaminated with norovirus, and then placing their hand in their mouth; if an infected persons prepares food; or if an infected person vomits in a public space.

Ways to Prevent Catching and Spreading the Flu

- Get a flu shot. - Stay home if you are sick and keep children home from school if they are sick. - Cough or sneeze into your elbow. - Wash your hands often throughout the day. Use warm water and soap. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand gel.

Ways to Prevent Catching and Spreading Norovirus

- Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. - Stay home if you are sick and keep children home from school if they are sick. - After an episode of illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label or a solution made by adding 525 tablespoons of household bleach to 1 gallon of water. - Do not prepare food while infected. People who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from their illness.

If you get sick with flu symptoms and are at high risk of flu complications or you are concerned about the severity of your own or your child's illness, call your healthcare provider for advice.

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