standing flu shot

Sun file photo

PROVIDENCE — An increase in the number flu cases and other seasonal viruses has led to an influx of Rhode Islanders to seek medical care, but state officials are urging residents to pause and consider where they are going for treatment.

The Rhode Island Department of Health is urging residents to avoid emergency rooms unless absolutely necessary, instead utilizing urgent care centers and other options unless they are in dire health.

“Emergency departments are perfect for emergency situations. If someone is experiencing a serious health issue, they should absolutely call 911 or go to an emergency department right away. However, emergency departments treat patients with the most serious health issues first, which means that people with less severe conditions may experience long waits,” said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health.

“Keep the phone number for your primary care provider handy and know where your nearest urgent care facility is," she continued. "An urgent care facility, or other type of express care facility is often a more convenient, less expensive option.”

Officials said when it comes to the flu, most cases are often more quickly and just as effectively treated by a primary care provider or in an urgent care facility. That does not mean emergency rooms should never be used — in cases where symptoms are extremely severe, people who are more likely to get complications should be treated in an emergency department.

Emergency warning signs of flu sickness that indicate a need to go to the emergency department include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; pain or pressure in the chest; and having flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough. A full list of emergency warning signs of flu sickness in infants, children, and adults can be found on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website at

— Sun staff

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