Unfounded and Exaggerated Reporting on the 2019 Influenza Creating Unnecessary Frenzy

As much as we love free press, its just one side of the coin. The press and media also sometimes tend to escalate issues and over glorify them to sensationalize it and give people a good story. The same has been the case with Australia’s 2019, flu season, which according to medical experts, was blown out of proportion and inflated, creating unnecessary fear.

According to a letter published online in the Medical Journal of Australia, media and press reporting is entirely responsible for creating frenzy among people and clinicians on the direness of influenza.

The letter, signed by Dr Vicky Sheppeard, director of the Communicable Diseases Branch at NSW Health, and colleagues, begins: “Mainstream media headlines have raised fears among the community and clinicians about the impact of influenza and likely effectiveness of the 2019 influenza vaccine.

The World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza was quoted in the article, “explaining that some drift among circulating strains from the vaccine strains is expected every year and that to date in 2019, drifted strains made up just a small portion of circulating virus”.

But the country’s media had a different grueling story to tell. With statements like ‘Mutant flu crisis’ and ‘Exclusive: Jab fail fears as killer strain takes hold’ Headlining everywhere.

Dr. Sheppeard mentions that the possibility of the quick assumptions of the severity of the situation and the subsequent frantic reporting must be due to the record number of notifications. The report also states that other things must be considered apart from these notifications before infiltrating the entire community on it.

The annual increases in test numbers from 29,232 in NSW sentinel laboratories in 2010 to 338,828 in just the first six months of 2019. This is owing to the move from influenza diagnosis based mainly on serology to rapid, highly discriminatory polymerase chain-reaction testing widely available in primary and acute services.

The report concludes, “We are working to reduce the impact of influenza on the community; hopefully, we can achieve this without generating unfounded community concern.”