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Coronavirus might be cause for concern, but flu remains much more worrisome in the U.S.

There’s still time to get a flu shot this season, doctor says

Chinese tourists wearing face masks visit the Colosseum area on February 6, 2020 in Rome, Italy.
Chinese tourists wearing face masks visit the Colosseum area on February 6, 2020 in Rome, Italy. (2020 Getty Images)

The new flu-like virus that has infected more than 28,000 people globally -- with a death toll now past 560 -- has many people on edge, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of the cases are in China.

Still, it’s true that more than 200 people with the illness have been reported in over two dozen other countries, according to The Associated Press. At last check, the United States had 12 confirmed cases.

Yes, we are referring to the new coronavirus.

Did you know coronaviruses are actually a large family of viruses, some of which cause the common cold? Others have evolved into more severe illnesses, such as SARS and MERS, but this new coronavirus isn’t either of those.

Health officials are still working to learn more about exactly what this is.

Still, before you get worked into a frenzy over a virus that really isn’t widespread in our country, we thought we’d take a minute to talk about a virus that is here, now -- that you can protect yourself and your family against: Influenza.

So, is it too late to get a flu shot?

“It is beginning to run a little late, but this particular year, we’ve had unusual circumstances,” said emergency room doctor and health reporter Dr. Frank McGeorge. “The season started off earlier than usual and different, with Influenza B being predominant. Now, (Influenza) A is starting to pick up.”

The flu vaccine changes each season in composition, based on what’s circulating in other parts of the globe, McGeorge said. Experts try to anticipate what will circulate here.

“Sometimes that re-tooling is a good match (and) other times it’s imperfect,” McGeorge said. “But even if it’s imperfect, it provides some degree of improved immunity, and helps you to stay healthier.”

All in all? Get the shot. There’s a good chance you’d still be covered, the doctor told us.

In general, getting a flu shot is better than not getting a flu shot, McGeorge said.

The other consideration to keep in mind with the flu shot is, it’s a seasonal variance. It doesn’t cover you for a calendar year, it covers you for a season: typically, fall to late summer or spring.

Still, there’s no better treatment for the flu than getting your vaccine ahead of time.

How did we jump from coronavirus to influenza?

Influenza is here now, keep that in mind -- vs. about a dozen cases of coronavirus.

If you visit the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, health officials are already making preliminary estimates on flu cases this season. And the numbers are big.

Take a look:

CDC flu estimates
CDC flu estimates (CDC.com)

We’ll add this note, as well, from the CDC:

*Because influenza surveillance does not capture all cases of flu that occur in the U.S., CDC provides these estimated ranges to better reflect the larger burden of influenza. These estimates are calculated based on CDC’s weekly influenza surveillance data and are preliminary.

Learn more by clicking or tapping this link.

Is it wrong to be concerned about coronavirus?

Absolutely not, McGeorge said.

“Concern is reasonable,” he added. “Eventually, it might make its way (here). But fear probably isn’t warranted at this point.”

McGeorge said perhaps it’s a “happy coincidence” that we’re in the midst of cold and flu season.

“If you’re wearing a (medical) mask for coronavirus in America right now, that’s overkill,” he said. “But taking precautions to avoid getting a viral illness? There’s nothing wrong with that.”

If concerns over coronavirus will enhance people’s awareness about things like hand-washing, protection against infectious diseases and in turn, lead to better personal hygiene, then that’s great.

“The timing isn’t going to hurt anyone,” McGeorge said.

What should we know about this specific coronavirus?

It appears to have a predilection to invade the lower respiratory system -- the lungs, specifically. This virus doesn’t seem to cause the sniffles, so the symptoms are complex. This is different than a run-of-the-mill coronavirus, McGeorge said.

He added, right now, the important thing for researchers to figure out is how many people are really infected. That’s the most relevant.

Experts can’t determine how dangerous or deadly this is without knowing how many people are infected.

Numbers are probably underestimated at this point, McGeorge said. There is reasonable probability that this will continue, despite the fact that Chinese officials are doing their best to limit the spread and decrease the number of infections.

This coronavirus has brought about many comparisons to SARS.

“SARS too was a coronavirus that originated in China -- and this seems to be making its way around the globe, just like SARS,” McGeorge said. “This time, Chinese health officials are sharing viral samples, sharing more data and being proactive about containing it. China wasn’t as forthcoming with the data on SARS. This global sharing of information will help (doctors) limit the spread.”


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