A deadly coronavirus that's killed at least 132 and sickened nearly 6,000 people worldwide has reached the U.S. with five cases confirmed across the nation. As the outbreak continues to spread, how concerned should you be?
Federal health officials have maintained the current risk of coronavirus to the public is low. In fact, many medical professionals are stressing that, in the U.S., you have a better chance of contracting the flu than you do the novel virus.
“Americans should know that this is a potentially very serious public health threat, but, at this point, Americans should not worry for their own safety,” Alex Azar, the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, said during a press conference this week.
Some Americans may be at risk — but only if they’ve traveled to China in recent weeks, health experts told Fox News.
“The risk of coronavirus to Americans without travel to endemic parts of China is considered low,” said Melissa Nolan, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Public Health, to Fox News.
"You certainly are more at risk of becoming infected with [the] flu, which is still circulating in the U.S., than of developing coronavirus illness."
Though the virus is transmissible between people, Nolan noted that the nation has yet to see any cases that occurred via human-to-human transmission, as “only those with Chinese exposures have become infected.”
“The influenza virus is a greater concern for Americans at the moment, as more Americans have died from influenza this year than there are cases of the novel coronavirus,” she added, referencing the 8,200 flu deaths in the U.S. this season.
Keeping yourself healthy is the best way to protect yourself, she said.
“Regardless of one’s possible exposure, it is also recommended to wash your hands frequently, especially after touching surfaces that others might have coughed on, limit close personal contact with anyone that has influenza-like illness, and to seek medical care if you develop [a] cough, fever, or any other flu-like symptoms.”
Experts with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) echoed Nolan, reiterating the importance of good health practices.
“The risk to the general population in the U.S. at this time is still low. Unless you have traveled recently to China or have been exposed to a known case of coronavirus or a person who is currently under investigation as a possible case, your risk is low,” said Dr. Patricia N. Whitley-Williams, president-elect of NFID, in a statement.
“Influenza kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. every year, yet flu vaccination rates are low. You certainly are more at risk of becoming infected with [the] flu, which is still circulating in the U.S., than of developing coronavirus illness,” she added.
“Many viruses circulate each year causing illness in the United States. To prevent such illness, covering coughs and sneezes, staying home when sick, and washing hands are very important. This is true for everything from the common cold to new viruses such as the Wuhan coronavirus,” Dr. H. Keipp B. Talbot, secretary of NFID, said in a statement.
“This is also a good reminder as flu has caused over 15 million illnesses, over 7 million medical visits, and over 8,000 deaths in the United States this season,” added Talbot.
Both NFID doctors stressed the importance of the flu vaccine — reminding others to get the shot “immediately” if they haven’t already.
It’s worth noting that the number of cases confirmed in mainland China has now surpassed those that were sickened during a SARS outbreak in 2002-2003. However, the coronavirus death toll still remains lower than the 348 people in China who were killed by SARS.
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