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Coronavirus v. Flu: Facts, Fiction and Misconceptions

Coronavirus v. Flu: Facts, Fiction and Misconceptions

Late in 2019 we saw the immergence of a new respiratory coronavirus, now labeled Covid-19 (coronavirus). The new virus has been making headlines since the first reports of the outbreak that has been traced to Wuhan, China. The virus has sparked concerns over a worldwide outbreak, or pandemic. These concerns come right at the peak season for another virus, influenza, or the season flu.

  • How do these two viruses compare?
  • Where should we really direct our concern and resources?
  • What are current prevention methods?

The new coronavirus has been responsible for 2,462 deaths and over 78,811 cases worldwide, since its initial detection at the end of 2019. The CDC has confirmed only 14 cases of coronavirus and no deaths in the United States. The CDC estimates that this year’s flu season, officially beginning October 1, 2019, has been responsible for over 22 million cases of seasonal flu, and up to 30,000 deaths in the United States alone.  That is a huge difference!

To become infected with the coronavirus, scientists believe one must be in close contact (within 6 feet) with another infected person. At this time in the US, this will likely mean that an individual has either been to the regions of outbreak in China or has been in close contact with someone who has recently been in outbreak regions of China.  Currently the risk of contracting coronavirus is low within the United States. The virus is spread mainly though droplets from a cough or a sneeze, but it can also be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces. The seasonal flu is spread in pretty much the same way. But there is one MAJOR difference. Significantly more people in the United States currently have the flu and are able to spread it to others. This means the risk of contracting the flu in the US is magnitudes higher than contracting coronavirus.

Fortunately, the same methods are used in the prevention of both influenza and coronavirus. They are as follows:

  • Frequently wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand-sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are presenting symptoms of illness, and if you are the one with symptoms, STAY HOME.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched items.
  • Cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue and dispose of it in a garbage, or sneeze or cough into your elbow. Make sure to clean your hands afterwards.

In addition to the prevention methods above, people who have not already gotten their flu shot should get one ASAP.

The transmission rate for the new coronavirus is still unconfirmed, however it is estimated that an infected individual will infect 1.5 to 3.5 new individuals with coronavirus, as compared to 1.3 new individuals for the 2019/2020 seasonal flu. However, we expect to see a lower transmission rate for flu in the US due to vaccination rates, so again, get your flu shot. The mortality rate for the new coronavirus is estimated to be 3% though this is expected to decrease. A key reason is that in the early stages of an outbreak, especially when symptoms are common with other illnesses, only severe cases are detected. Once the illness becomes more widely known and more efficient diagnostic testing becomes more widely available, milder or asymptomatic cases will also be identified. Clinically, milder cases generally have more positive outcomes and fewer deaths so mortality rate declines. Some excess mortality may also be related to availability of sophisticated healthcare along with appropriate and timely treatment. The 2019/2020 flu season has a current mortality rate of around 0.1%, however we are still in the midst of the flu season.

Some of the key take-away’s from the information currently available for the United States is as follows:

  • At this time, people in the United States should continue to be more concerned about the influenza virus.
  • The prevention methods are the same and mainly involve good hygiene practices.
  • Significantly more people have suffered from and died from the flu this year in the US than from coronavirus worldwide.

There is still much to be learned about the coronavirus and all outbreaks should be handled with diligence. The World Health Organization has now sent a team to China to assist with outbreak investigation and pandemic prevention. Current travel bans and mandatory quarantines act as very robust, but temporary barriers to the spread of coronavirus to the United States.  We will keep you updated on new coronavirus developments as well as further recommendations as the outbreak progresses and management strategies shift.  Until then it is important to continue practicing good hygiene and monitoring your health during this very active flu season.

 

Coronavirus

Influenza

 

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