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Our View: Coronavirus a concern, but flu remains the bigger health threat

Monday’s news that a first Maryland resident was being tested for the Wuhan coronavirus (2019 N-CoV) that has caused thousands to become ill and has killed nearly 100 in China is absolutely reason for Carroll countians to be aware of the virus and cognizant of its symptoms. It’s new, we don’t know a lot about it, it’s receiving all kinds of media attention and there is no vaccine for it.

But there’s no reason to panic. And keep this in mind: influenza remains a far greater health threat.

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Neither the person being tested nor their location was not identified by the Maryland Department of Health, which said in a news release that the patient is in good condition. Symptoms of the coronavirus are fairly standard — cough, fever, congestion. But a key indicator also seems to be having recently traveled to China, which leaves most of us out.

“The Maryland Department of Health is closely monitoring the rapidly changing situation with 2019 N-CoV, both in the U.S. and in China,” Fran Phillips, the Maryland deputy secretary of public health, is quoted as saying in a news release. “As we learn more, Marylanders are encouraged to practice everyday actions to promote good health and to protect yourself and your loved ones from respiratory viruses like the coronavirus — wash your hands thoroughly, cover your cough and avoid close contact with people who are sick. Stay home from work or school if you’re not feeling well.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends no one travel to China unless it is absolutely necessary. But the CDC also stressed that, while there have been five cases of 2019-nCoV confirmed in the United States, all were detected in travelers returning from the Chinese city Wuhan. According to a CDC news release: “No person-to-person spread has been detected in the United States at this time and this virus is NOT spreading in the community.”

Contrast that with the flu. The CDC estimates that from Oct. 1 through Jan. 18, some 15-21 million people contracted the flu leading to 7-10 million medical visits, 140-250 thousand hospitalizations and anywhere from 8,200 to 20,000 deaths. Some 80,000 people died of the flu two winters ago, the deadliest season on record.

Yet it’s far more likely to hear people talking about the coronavirus right now than the flu. So we’re hopeful everyone has already received a flu shot or is making plans to do so.

According to the Carroll County Health Department, everyone over six months of age should get a flu shot. Flu season lasts well into the spring in Maryland and the virus generally peaks in January, February and March. Children, older adults, and individuals with weakened immune systems and with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, asthma or lung disease, are the most susceptible to the flu virus and are more likely to suffer complications from contracting flu.

Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting, according to the Carroll County Health Department, which notes on its website that most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care. But those in the high-risk groups or those who become very sick should contact their health care provider.

Additionally, anyone with the flu who experiences significant additional symptoms — such as difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting or flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough — should go to the emergency room.

So read up on the coronavirus. Pay attention to the nightly news reports. Become educated about it and be mindful. But only after you’ve received a flu shot.

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