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Why experts say you should care about the flu as much as the coronavirus

Why experts say you should care about the flu as much as the coronavirus

(Laura Seitz, KSL, FIle)



This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

SALT LAKE CITY — The spread of the coronavirus, which originated in China, has led to worldwide concern as scientists seek to find a cure for it. On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency in regards to the mysterious virus.

That announcement came as more than 7,000 cases have been reported worldwide, according to NBC News. The death toll from the virus has also grown to 170. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also confirmed Thursday the first human-to-human spread of the virus in the United States.

The Utah Department of Health is monitoring a few people in the state for the coronavirus, but no cases of the virus have been confirmed in the state, Jenny Johnson, the department’s spokeswoman, said Thursday. She said it takes about two to three days for the department to test someone, send the results to the CDC and then get an answer.

While there is a concern about the coronavirus, experts say it’s also important for people to focus their attention on preventing influenza outbreaks.

“We’re in the thick of flu season,” said Keegan McCaffrey, an influenza epidemiologist at the Utah Department of Health.

Utah officials say the flu began early in the state and across the country and has hit hard. Five hundred thirty-five people have been hospitalized in Utah from the start of the flu season in October through Saturday, according to the most recent department of health statistics.

The flu has also been deadly in Utah again this year. The first flu death of this season was reported in southern Utah on Jan. 7. In addition, two Utah Military Academy cadets who died last week tested positive for influenza. The family of a Pleasant Grove man said he has also died from the virus.

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The CDC estimates there have been at least 140,000 hospitalizations and 8,200 flu deaths nationwide from Oct. 1, 2019, through Jan. 18. Those numbers dwarf current coronavirus figures.

The state reports 58% of the cases this year have been influenza B, while 42% have been influenza A, or H1N1. That’s a bit of an anomaly because influenza B has been the predominant strain since the 1992-1993 flu season. The strain usually begins taking hold at the end of the flu season in the spring, McCaffrey explained.

“Children are tending to get more influenza B and older adults are tending to get more influenza A. Influenza B can impact children more severely, and so we’re seeing hospitalizations in children and that’s something we’re really trying to keep a good track on,” he said.

Precautions for the flu are good precautions to take for the coronavirus too, officials say. People are advised to wash their hands, cover their coughs or sneezes and call their doctor if they become sick. Officials say it's also never too early for people to get their flu shot.

“We want people to stay home from work or school if they’re sick to help keep the flu from spreading to the people around them,” McCaffrey said. “If you think you have the flu, please give your doctor a call because they can prescribe antivirals that will help you get better sooner and give you guidance on how to stop the spread of the flu.”

Contributing: Emerson Oligschlaeger, KSL

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