With hospital emergency departments throughout the state seeing high volumes of patients, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is reminding all Rhode Islanders about the need to seek medical care in the most appropriate setting.
Since the start of January, Rhode Island has seen significant increases in the number of cases of norovirus, flu, and other respiratory illnesses. RIDOH maintains several systems to monitor flu-related illnesses, outbreaks, hospitalizations, and deaths that validate these increases.
Many types of illnesses and injuries usually do not require an emergency department visit, including back pain, sprains, minor cuts, colds, sore throats, low-grade fevers, and most cases of norovirus. Norovirus is a highly contagious stomach illness that can cause people to have extreme vomiting or diarrhea for 24-28 hours. Norovirus is found in the stool and vomit of an infected person and can spread by eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus; touching surfaces or objects that are contaminated with norovirus; or if an infected person vomits in a public space. Going to an emergency department for most cases of norovirus and the other health issues listed above will likely result in long waits because emergency department staff prioritize more serious injuries and illnesses.
Additionally, less severe cases of the flu are often better treated by a primary care provider or in an urgent care facility than in an emergency department. However, some cases of the flu should be treated in an emergency department. Emergency warning signs that indicate that someone with the flu does need to go to the emergency department include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; pain or pressure in the chest; and having flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
If someone is not sure if they need to go to the emergency department, they should contact their primary care provider. A primary care provider will be able to give you guidance about the next best step for you or your child. (Most offices have physicians on-call after hours.)
Tips to avoid catching and spreading illnesses: - Get vaccinated against the flu. The flu is in Rhode Island every year through the end of the spring. By being vaccinated now, you can still get several months' worth of protection. - Cough or sneeze into your elbow. - 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 that involves 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 5–25 tablespoons of household bleach to one gallon of water. - If you have norovirus, do not prepare food for other people. After you no longer have the symptoms of norovirus, still do not prepare food for other people for three days.