In a development health officials had been anticipating, Rhode Island recently joined more than two dozen other states with a formal declaration of widespread influenza.
It is not unusual, of course, for the flu to become a significant public health issue during winter months. But this season is unique, officials say, because the prevalent strain of the virus – H1N1 – preys upon younger people more than those typically considered the most vulnerable, such as children, the ill or the elderly.
“This is not a typical year,” Dr. Michael Fine, director of the state’s Department of Heath, said during a recent news conference.
The declaration of widespread flu triggered regulations requiring many health workers to wear masks. It has also led to a renewed push for members of the public to be vaccinated.
With the coming weeks set to see an increase in flu activity, we echo the health department’s call and urge members of our communities to be vaccinated. Officials say the recent announcement has already led to a spike in the number of people turning out for vaccination clinics, but it is essential that the message reach all Rhode Islanders – particularly the young adults who are at risk but may not think of themselves as such without the added warning.
As of last week’s announcement, the flu had hospitalized 51 Rhode Islanders thus far for the season, up from 16 on Dec. 30. Those numbers will continue to grow.
Fine, in addressing the media, made a key point about the flu, one that is particularly important for adults to remember.
“Most people forget what it’s like to have the flu. It’s not the common cold…it’s a whole lot worse,” he said. “It’s a significant illness.”
For adults, such an illness can result in extended time out of work. For children, it can lead to many days of missed classes and coursework. For those already dealing with medical issues, it can have more devastating consequences.
One saving grace of the recent developments is that this year’s flu vaccine is particularly effective against the H1N1 strain. With a range of clinics scheduled in the coming weeks – and more information available online at www.health.ri.gov or by calling the Health Information Line at 222-5960/RI Relay 711 – we urge all Rhode Islanders to be proactive in protecting their own health.