The Flu Presents a Far Greater Local Health Threat than the Wuhan Coronavirus

25 January 2020   Terri Farneti, Yavapai County Public Health Coordinator
Here in the US, the flu is deadlier than the Wuhan coronavirus

Influenza has already sickened at least 13 million Americans this winter, hospitalizing 120,000 and killing 6,600, according to the CDC. And flu season hasn’t even peaked. In a bad year, the flu kills up to 61,000 Americans.

Worldwide, the flu causes up to 5 million cases of severe illness worldwide and kills up to 650,000 people every year, according to the World Health Organization. 

Fewer than half of adults got a flu shot last season, according to the CDS. Even among children, who can be especially vulnerable to respiratory illnesses, only 62% received the vaccine.

If Americans aren’t afraid of the flu, perhaps that’s because they are inured to yearly warnings. For them, the flu is old news. Yet viruses named after foreign places – such as Ebola, Zika and Wuhan – inspire terror. 

According to the CDC’s most current report for the week ending January 18, there was another surge in flu activity. CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 15 million flu illnesses, 140,000 hospitalizations and 8,200 deaths from flu. 15 additional pediatric deaths were reported this week, bringing the total for the season to 54. Influenza B viruses account for 37 of the 54 reported flu-related pediatric deaths this season. 

Arizona is now up to 12,710 confirmed cases, and Yavapai County 193. Mohave, Coconino, Navajo and Apache have each had over 500 cases. 

Is it too late to get your flu shot? No. While the CDC recommends the people get vaccinated against the flu by the end of October, getting a flu shot later can still be beneficial. “As long as flu viruses are circulating, it is not too late to get vaccinated, even in January or later,” the CDC says on its website.

Coronavirus cases in the US

Although the country maintains its Level 2 advisory (exercise increased caution), the State Department issued a special warning for the Wuhan region and noted that it had evacuated all non-essential personnel from China, limiting its ability to aid U.S. citizens in Hubei province.

The CDC is closely monitoring an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China which continues to expand.

In the United States, one case was confirmed in Washington on Tuesday after a man in his 30s returned from Wuhan last week and became ill. A second case of coronavirus was confirmed today in Chicago, a woman who traveled to Wuhan in late December and returned Jan. 13. Officials say the woman is doing well and she’s stable.

Other scares have popped up around the U.S., too. A student from Tennessee Tech University was being tested for possible infection after he presented very mild symptoms possibly related to the virus, the university and state health officials said Thursday.

A Texas A&M University student was also being tested and is isolated at home, local health officials said. The man, who recently traveled from Wuhan, is improving, said Dr. Eric Wilke of the Brazos County Health Authority.

Officials said they expect to see additional cases. Although the outbreak is a “very serious public health threat, the immediate risk to the U.S. public is low at this time,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

The State Department issued a warning Thursday not to travel to Hubei province amid the outbreak and said all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members were to leave the province.

Airlines around the world increased screenings of passengers arriving from China, including Qatar Airways, which said it had installed thermal scanners at its main hub, Hamad International Airport. In the U.S., airports in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and San Francisco stepped up health checks for passengers arriving from China.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Many of the initial cases were linked to a seafood and meat market in Wuhan. Chinese health officials, which first reported the cases last month, said human-to-human transmission has been confirmed. Health officials said the virus, which probably spreads through tiny droplets when a person coughs or sneezes, is low- risk. Officials urged people to take the usual cold and flu season precaution: frequent hand washing, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing and staying home when you don't feel well. 



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