Rhode Island Department of Health declares influenza widespread for the second time

Rhode Island Director of Health Michael Fine said on Thursday that influenza is widespread in the state and healthcare workers who have not been vaccinated must wear surgical masks during patient contact.

Rhose Island is experiencing a second wave of influenza infection that is more severe than the first. The late-season wave is showing H3N2 and influenza B as the dominant strains, which have had a large impact on the elderly population.

Of 13 flu-related deaths this season, the majority have been people in their 80s and 90s. A total of 464 flu-related hospitalizations have been reported during the season, with 70 occurring between April 6-12.

"This continues to be a dangerous flu season for the elderly," Fine said. "Vaccination is important for everyone older than 6 months of age, but it is particularly important for the elderly, people who are around the elderly, and healthcare workers. It's not too late to get a flu shot. When you get vaccinated, you're protecting yourself and you also could be saving the life of a grandparent, patient, neighbor, or friend who is especially vulnerable this year."

Healthcare workers are required to wear surgical masks until the illness is no longer designated as widespread.

Fine said flu vaccines are still available in the state at doctors' offices and pharmacies.