State DOH Director says flu virus is widespread

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PROVIDENCE —Michael Fine, MD, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (HEALTH) declared that flu is widespread in Rhode Island. This declaration triggers Rhode Island's regulation requiring all healthcare workers who have not been immunized against the flu to wear surgical masks during direct patient contact. More information on this mask regulation can be found at www.health.ri.gov/flu/for/healthcareworkers.
"Healthcare workers are protecting their patients, who often have other medical complications, by being vaccinated against the flu or wearing masks when involved in direct patient contact," said Dr. Fine. "Since vaccination is the best defense against influenza, it is extremely important for everyone to get vaccinated now if they have not already done so," added Fine. This year, throughout the country, CDC has tracked many cases of severe respiratory illness from the H1N1 virus, which in some instances have led to hospitalization, and even death, among young and middle-aged adults. Thus far this season there have been 51 hospitalizations related to the flu in Rhode Island. The flu is currently widespread in 25 states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut. HEALTH determines the level of influenza in the state through surveillance physician offices throughout Rhode Island that send samples to the Department. The dominant strain of flu circulating in Rhode Island and the country is H1N1, which was first detected in 2009. This strain affects children, young adults, and middle aged adults more than other strains. However, this year's vaccine protects against H1N1 flu, as well as two or three other strains (depending on what type of vaccine that people receive). Everyone older than six months of age should be vaccinated against the flu every year. In addition to healthcare workers, vaccination is especially important for pregnant women, the elderly, and people with chronic medical conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes, and asthma. HEALTH has set up 16 vaccination clinics to run throughout Rhode Island over the next 3 weeks. There is no cost for a flu shot and there are no insurance requirements at the clinics. People who have health insurance, however, are asked to bring their insurance cards. In addition to being vaccinated at community clinics, children can be vaccinated at doctors' offices. Adults can be vaccinated at community clinics, doctors' offices, and pharmacies. For more information about influenza or to find a vaccination clinic near you, visit www.health.ri.gov/flu.

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