Since October 2017, over 2300 Texans have died from the flu. Of those death, over half have been among the elderly. Called the worst flu season in over a decade, it has sparked many conversations about how we can better protect ourselves and our loved-ones from the annual virus. Part of that protection, and part of limiting risk exposure, comes from how we talk about the flu.

Dr Gary Kreps directs the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University, says that during the ebola outbreak a few years ago, media coverage incited fear in the audience. Fear led to discrimination against those who had, or were believee to have, the disease, and people reduced travel in response to media reports about the illness. People took many other actions based on fear – actions that weren’t at all suggested by the data.

“The ways that we communicate about risks is really important in terms of helping people understand and make good decisions,” Kreps says.

Kreps emphasizes that the current flu outbreak is not an epidemic.

“Only about 6.6 percent of people seeking care right now are seeking [care] for the flu,” he says.

Even if you or someone you know does get the flu, it’s likely to be a relatively mild case, Kreps says. You probably won’t need to be hospitalized.

“While the dangers are higher than normal,” Kreps says, “it’s not going to affect most people.”

Kreps says that providing helpful advice, rather than spreading alarm, can reduce fear and encourage media consumers to adopt easily achievable tactics for flu prevention. For example, while 2300 Texans have died from flu, getting the vaccine will reduce the risk for those who don’t have the disease.  In addition to the flu vaccine, frequent hand-washing can help ward off flu virus.

Written by Christopher De Los Santos.

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