PROVIDENCE – As the flu remains widespread in Rhode Island and continues to send people to doctors' offices and hospitals throughout the state, unvaccinated Rhode Islanders are urged to get flu shots to protect not only themselves, but also those around them — particularly elderly people and babies under the age of six months.
"Flu vaccine helps you and the people in your life stay healthy," said Michael Fine, M.D., director of HEALTH. "Roughly 40 percent of the state has been vaccinated so far this flu season. For the hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders who still haven't gotten flu shots, it's not too late to protect yourself, your family members, neighbors, co-workers, and friends."
This flu season is particularly severe and is hitting the state earlier than usual, said Dr. Fine, adding that the state is averaging about 10 flu hospitalizations each day and seeing nearly 200 patients with flu-like symptoms daily in emergency departments.
"We don't know how long the flu is going to continue to circulate in Rhode Island at this level," he said. "But what we do know is that flu vaccine is the best defense against influenza."
Many people have questions about the flu shot, or hear conflicting information about the need to protect themselves and their families from influenza. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about influenza and the flu shot:
Myth: Flu's not a big deal. It's just like getting a bad cold. Fact: Flu is much more than a cold and can lead to hospitalization and even death. Its symptoms go beyond the runny nose, cough and sore throat you might have with a cold and can also include fever, body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea.
Myth: I'm young and healthy. I don't need to get a flu shot. Fact: A bad case of the flu can keep you out of work or school for about two weeks. A flu shot helps protect you from getting the flu. But when you get a shot, it also helps protect those around you. The more healthy people ages 18 to 49 who get a flu shot (an age group in which the vaccine is highly effective, but in which Rhode Island has a vaccination rate of only about 18 percent), the greater the likelihood that the virus won't spread to the people who are most likely to have life-threatening complications from getting the flu: Babies under age six months and people over the age of 65.
Myth: My friend got the shot and still got the flu! If I can get the flu anyway, I shouldn't bother to get the shot. Fact: It's true – you might get the shot and still get the flu. But getting a flu shot usually means that you'll be sick for less time than you would have been without the shot and your symptoms will be milder.
Myth: I've had the flu shot and now I'm sick. There's nothing I can do now. Fact: If you got the flu shot, but still got the flu, the vaccine will likely lessen the severity and duration of your illness. You should still call your doctor as soon as possible, however, because you can be treated with medication, even if you've had the shot.
Myth: I've already had the flu this year, so I don't need the shot. Fact: Not true – you can get the flu twice in one season! Even if you've had a confirmed case of the flu, the flu shot will help protect you from other flu strains that are circulating this year. Also, some people think they have the flu when they really have another virus.
Myth: I think I've got the flu. There's nothing I can do now. Fact: If you develop flu-like symptoms, call your doctor right away. He or she can evaluate your symptoms and prescribe a treatment that will help lessen your symptoms and the length of time that you're sick. But remember, you need to call your doctor as soon as you start to feel flu-like symptoms, as treatment must occur during the first 24 hours of when you start feeling sick.
Myth: The flu shot is the only way to protect myself from getting the flu. Fact: A flu shot is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and those you love from influenza. But there are other things you can do to stay healthy, too. Wash your hands, wipe down commonly touched surfaces in your home (door knobs, cabinet handles, telephone and TV remote) and generally take good care of yourself by eating well and staying rested.
Adults and children can be vaccinated by their doctors. Additionally, adults can be vaccinated at pharmacies, and children and adults without doctors or health insurance can be vaccinated at public clinics. To find a flu shot clinic in your area or find more information about flu, visit www.health.ri.gov/flu
Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone six months of age and older, including healthy adults between 18 and 49 years of age. Immunization against the flu is especially important for healthcare workers, pregnant women, anyone older than 50 years of age, nursing or group home residents, and people with chronic conditions or weakened immune systems. Common chronic conditions include heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes, asthma, anemia, and blood disorders. It is also especially important for those who live with or care for people who are at high risk for flu-related complications to be immunized.