Virginia Tech Carilion expert urges caution in flu panic
A Virginia Tech Carilion expert in infectious diseases is able to provide context following a series of media reports noting that this year’s influenza season has reached “epidemic” levels.
The reporting is based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report for the week ending Jan. 21. In the report released Jan. 27, the CDC notes that “the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza was above the system-specific epidemic threshold” used by the National Center for Health Statistics.
“‘Epidemic’ is hyperbole,” said Dr. Thomas M. Kerkering, professor of internal medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and section chair of infectious diseases at Carilion Clinic. “Epidemic means seeing more than the normal baseline for this time of the year.”
The CDC’s frequently asked questions page on influenza notes that “the United States experiences epidemics of seasonal flu each year. This time of year is called ‘flu season.’”
Influenza is currently widespread in Southwest Virginia but it is “in the usual amounts for any given year,” Kerkering said.
Confirmed cases at Carilion Clinic emergency rooms across Southwest Virginia have been steadily picking up in the last two weeks, Kerkering said, and they’re expected to continue for another two to three weeks before tapering off.
Kerkering said this year's influenza vaccine is a good match. He encourages people to get vaccinated even if they haven’t already. “It is not too late.”
The CDC also recommends taking everyday preventative actions to remain healthy like staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. If you do become sick with the flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading it to others.