Coronavirus versus influenza: signs to look out for and steps for preventative care

According to Dr. Joe McLaughlin, an estimated 8% of the American population contracts influenza every year. (ImageBlocks)

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The latest novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation report from the World Health Organization reports 45,171 confirmed global cases of virus-related illness.

The highest rate of cases still comes from China, and there is concern in the United States that flights from China are continuing to land at American airports.

However, a press release issued on February 7 by the State of Alaska stresses that, “All passenger and cargo flights to the U.S. from Wuhan, China, where the novel coronavirus was first detected, continue to be suspended indefinitely.”

It is also the middle of flu season.

Dr. Joe McLaughlin, State Epidemiologist with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, discussed some of the differences between influenza and the coronavirus.

“Every person who develops the novel coronavirus infection will, on average, in the absence of interventions, transmit the virus to two or three people,” he says. “For comparison, the transmissibility of seasonal influenza is much lower than that…for every person who has influenza, they tend to transmit it to a little over one person, on average.

He also says that the case fatality rate of coronavirus is about 2%, compared to that of influenza, which he says is typically lower than 0.1%.

However, influenza is still the primary health concern.
“Right now, in terms of novel coronavirus, fortunately, we don’t have sustained human to human transmission occurring in the United States,” says Dr. McLaughlin. “So right now the immediate risk of this novel coronavirus for people in the United States is still considered to be very low.”

“However with influenza,” he continues, “We know that we’re in the thick of influenza season and the risk of contracting influenza is quite high.”

According to McLaughlin, an estimated 8% of the American population contracts influenza every year. “Of those, hundreds of thousands usually require hospitalization, and tens of thousands will die from influenza every year,” he says.

When it comes to prevention, McLaughlin recommends business as usual methods for dealing with upper respiratory tract infections: not standing close to sick people, wiping down surfaces, and staying at home if sick.

He says that although a novel coronavirus vaccine is likely more than a year away, he recommends vaccines for flu shots as the first line of defense when it comes to preventative care.

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