Flu (Influenza)

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. People get sick from seasonal flu viruses every year. Flu can cause illness ranging from mild to severe. In some cases flu can lead to hospitalization and even death. Most people who get the flu will have a fever and cough or sore throat. They may also have a runny or stuffy nose, body aches, a headache, chills, fatigue, vomiting, or diarrhea. Is it the flu or a cold?

The last two flu seasons were atypical. The things that we did to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing) also prevented the spread of flu. During the 2019-2020 flu season, the strictest community mitigation measures were in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and Rhode Islanders were less likely to go to their doctor or to the hospital. In the 2019-2020 flu season in Rhode Island, there were 950 hospitalizations due to the flu and 20 flu-associated deaths. Before COVID-19, the 2018-2019 flu season was a moderately severe year for flu. In 2018-2019, there were 1,032 flu-related hospitalizations and 39 flu-associated deaths.

What you should do to avoid the flu

Get vaccinated

In the 2019-2020 flu season, 57% of Rhode Islanders age 18 or older got the flu shot, and 61% of Rhode Islanders six months or older got the flu shot. For the 2021-2022 flu season, our goal is 60% of Rhode Islanders age 18 or older get a flu shot, and 65% of Rhode Islanders age six months or older get the flu shot.

This year's flu vaccine protects against two influenza A strains (including the H1N1 strain) and two influenza B strains. The strains that are in this year’s flu vaccine are, based on what strains experts think will be circulating in the US.

For adults age 65 or older, two enhanced flu vaccines will be available. These enhanced vaccines help older adults get a higher immune response from their body and gives them better protection from the flu and flu-related illnesses.

You can receive a flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time. You do not need to wait 14 days between vaccinations.

Who Should Get The Flu Shot?

Flu shots are important for everyone older than six months. They are especially important for certain people, including older adults, younger children, healthcare workers, pregnant women, people with a weakened immune system, and people with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and asthma.

After you get a flu shot, you might feel achy or have a low-grade fever. This means that your body is building an immune response to the flu virus. These mild side effects are not as bad as getting the flu. The flu causes most people to stay in bed for a week. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot.

Flu vaccine is safe and is the best defense against the flu. The Office of Immunization provides flu vaccination for at no cost. Most evening school clinics are open to the public (age three and up). For the most up-to-date list of school clinics and to register for a school clinic, visit schoolflu.com. School clinics will not offer enhanced vaccine for people 65 years of age and older.

Click on the image or here to search to find a flu vaccination site near you.

Please note: On-line registration is required to guarantee an appointment. Limited walk-ins allowed based on available resources.

Practice good health habits

Flu viruses spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes near another person. They may also spread when people touch something covered with infected droplets and then touch their eyes, mouth, or nose.

  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow. Flu virus is spread to other people when you cough or sneeze into your hands and then touch other things.
  • Clean and sanitize places that are touched regularly, such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
  • Wash your hands frequently with water and soap. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Get plenty of sleep, exercise, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat healthy food.

What you should do if you think you have the flu

Seek appropriate care

  • First, check with your primary care provider. Milder cases of the flu are often better treated by a primary care provider or in an urgent care facility than in an emergency department.
  • However, some cases of the flu should be treated in an emergency department. Go to an emergency department if you have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest, or are experiencing flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
  • If you are not sure if you need to go to the emergency department, contact your primary care provider. They will be able to guide you through the next best step for you or your child. (Most offices have physicians on call after hours.)

Manage symptoms

  • Stay home if you are sick. If you have flu-like symptoms (fever plus a cough or fever plus a sore throat), stay home from work, school, or child care until you have been fever-free (temperature less than 100.4 degrees F/38 degrees C) for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • Rest, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid using alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco.
  • Consider using over-the-counter medicines such as Tylenol, ibuprofen, or aspirin to relieve symptoms. Children younger than 19 years old should not be given aspirin to treat the flu.
  • Check with your healthcare provider about any special care you might need if you are pregnant or have an underlying health condition.
  • Tell your doctor if you've had flu-like symptoms or felt ill after returning from destinations with health travel advisories.
  • Consider antiviral medications. Antivirals are prescription medicines used to treat the flu when people are very sick or at high risk of flu-related complications. In order to work, they must be started within 2 days after getting sick. During a pandemic, antivirals may be prioritized for people at high risk of serious flu complications. more


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