Rhode Island announces first flu deaths of season

The Rhode Island Department of Health, also known as HEALTH, announced on Tuesday that two influenza-related deaths occurred in January, marking the state's first two deaths of the 2013-2014 flu season.

The first death occurred on January 1 in a male in his 50s with underlying medical conditions. The second individual was a male in his 80s with underlying medical conditions. He passed away on January 25.

"This is a very sad reminder that influenza is a serious illness," Michael Fine, the Rhode Island director of health, said. "Everyone older than six months of age should be vaccinated against the flu every year. Influenza typically remains in Rhode Island until April. If you have not yet been vaccinated this year, it's not too late. When you get vaccinated, you are not just protecting yourself. You are also protecting the people you love."

This is the first flu season in which adult flu-related deaths are being reported to HEALTH. As a result, the information must now be reported by all licensed healthcare facilities and healthcare providers in Rhode Island.

HEALTH said there is plenty of flu vaccine available throughout Rhode Island. Vaccination is important for vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, the elderly, children and individuals with chronic medical conditions like asthma, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Since the start of the flu season, there were 129 flu-related hospitalizations reported by HEALTH.