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Don't be fooled, the flu is still with us

It took the mayor of Boston to jolt Rhode Islanders into realizing that the flu is not to be dealt with lightly.

It was after Tom Menino’s declaration of a state of emergency about two weeks ago that participation at Rhode Island flu clinics went up dramatically. That’s a good thing.

This year’s flu – three stains are especially prevalent this season – arrived early and has wreaked havoc. Since Dec. 10, a total of 6,593 Rhode Islanders reported to emergency departments with flu-like symptoms. There are not comparable statistics for last year, but if the number of hospitalized is an indicator, the flu is not to be underestimated.

As of Monday, 474 persons have been hospitalized so far. This compares with 90 for all of last year’s flu season.

On the plus side, and partly because of Mayor Menino’s declaration, 459,558 Rhode Islanders have been vaccinated.

Also on the positive side, the number of new cases is on the decline. This doesn’t mean we are over it, or that those not vaccinated needn’t worry: Officially, the flu season runs through May. Health Department Director Dr. Michael Fine cautions that a second “spike” is a real possibility.

Getting vaccinated isn’t an ironclad guarantee. People can still get the flu, but, generally, they don’t get it as badly or have it as long. However, this season’s vaccination is especially well matched with the strains of flu out there, meaning the odds of not getting any flu is on the side of those who have been vaccinated.

With all the evidence favoring the vaccinated, one has to wonder why an even greater percentage of people don’t avail themselves of the many clinics and opportunities to get vaccinated.

Why wait for a declaration, or risk the agony and potentially lethal complications from flu when taking a few minutes for a shot could keep you healthy? A listing of clinics can be found on the Department of Health website at healthri.gov.


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