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EXPERTS: People Should be More Worried About the Flu than the Coronavirus



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Stories of quarantines, images of people in masks and headlines about mounting deaths have caused public concern about a new coronavirus.

The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, as yet has no vaccine, according to Dr. David Csikos, chief medical officer at Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber.

But Csikos said people here should be more concerned with the common flu strains – influenza A and B – and be vaccinated against them.

“I think influenza is far deadlier than coronavirus,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are at risk for influenza complications.”

As of Tuesday the Windber hospital had tested 500 people for the flu with 60 positive cases. Csikos said that false negative results occur and some people who test negative but show symptoms are treated as if they have the virus. Young children, older adults and pregnant woman are closely watched.

“Fortunately at Windber hospital we have had no deaths,” he said.

Around the nation, however, more than 8,200 people have died from the flu so far this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As a whole Americans are not particularly concerned because influenza is ‘old news,'” he said. Across the country 15 million Americans have been sickened by the flu and about 140,000 have been hospitalized, the CDC reports.

Csikos said he doesn’t think the flu season has peaked.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus had killed approximately 130 people as of Wednesday and infected thousands, according to The Associated Press. Flights leaving China are being monitored for sickly people.

Flu viruses mutate, making it hard to create vaccines to prevent them, unlike other viruses such as the measles. Strange cases like the coronavirus sometimes crop up.

Rarely the virus experiences what experts call a “shift,” a significant change that creates a more deadly disease. The 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed up to 100 million people, was such a case.

The Associated Press reports that experts worry the new coronavirus may spread more easily than originally thought, or may have mutated into a form that does so. It is from the coronavirus family, which also can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as SARS and MERS, which both emerged in the past two decades and are thought to have come from animals.

“I suspect it will get worse before it gets better,” Csikos said about the coronavirus outbreak. “Because it’s new we don’t have any protection, antibodies against it – there’s no vaccine as of this time.”

He said people with travel history to China and people who have been to large metropolitan airports are at greatest risk.

At UPMC Somerset, communications director Sarah Deist said that their experts are following the news on the coronavirus.

“These efforts include briefings with our local, state and federal public health authorities; travel screening alerts at our clinical facilities to help staff identify patients potentially at risk for having contracted the disease, such as those with travel history to China; instructions for proper infection prevention procedures; and drills with public health and emergency officials on proper protocol for transporting, quarantining and caring for patients with concerning infections,” she said.

As for the regular influenza, UPMC Somerset reports that 83 people have tested positive for the flu so far with no deaths. There were 119 people tested last week.

Infection prevention director Stephanie Faidley agrees with Csikos that the season has yet to peak.

She urged people to become vaccinated, noting that even if the dose is not a perfect match to the virus, it will help.

“It lessens the severity of symptoms,” she said. “You are far less likely to become hospitalized.”

Csikos said he usually gives vaccines through March. He noted CDC statistics citing that fewer than half of adults were vaccinated for influenza last year, and about 60% of children.

He considers those low numbers.

At Windber, there have been five admissions for the flu in the last three months.

He said he considers it to be a mild year so far. But that could change, and unless coronavirus mutates into a rare strain like the Spanish flu, the influenza should be of higher concern in Somerset County.

“I think it hasn’t peaked yet,” he said.

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