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WHO declares global emergency over coronavirus, but isn't the flu worse?

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We are naturally afraid of new and unknown dangers.

The World Health Organization is declaring a global emergency over the coronavirus outbreak, spreading uncontrollably in China and appearing around the world. Experts fear it may be too late to contain the virus. But is coronavirus worthy of the declaration? Isn't the flu worse? 

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LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - "Constant exposure to danger breeds contempt for it." Seneca (4 BC - 65 AD)

In response to the rapid spread of the nCoV-2019 (a.k.a. cornavirus), the World Health Organization just declared a global emergency on Thursday, January 30.  Despite the best efforts of Chinese officials, the virus appears to be spreading rapidly and cases are appearing globally. There are no detected, spreading outbreaks outside of China, for the moment, giving the world hope the virus can still be contained. But coronavirus can spread from person-to-person before symptoms appear, making it impossible to screen out all of those infected. 

Chances are, the coronavirus will spread around the world, given enough time. 

The virulence of coronavirus is still uncertain. Virulence is a factor which measures how deadly a disease is. Estimates for coronavirus range between 1 and 3 percent. 

But for now, coronavirus is mostly confined to China, with the exception of a handful of isolated cases around the world. Nations have their defenses up. Passengers are being screened and in some cases, quarantined. A vaccine is in the works. The cornoavirus, for all its hype and hyperbole will not be the deaded disease of Spanish flu pandemic turned out to be. Which brings another disease into the conversation, the flu. 

Public health officials are taking coronavirus seriously, but it is not something we should fear most. Instead, the deadly disease we need to worry about is the flu. 

The flu is a killer disease. Each year, tens of thousands of Americans die from it. In a good year, about 12,000 die, and in a bad year, more than 60,000 die. Another one to two hundred thousand are hospitalized. By the odds, this is the virus that is going to kill you or someone you know, not coronavirus. 

Public health officials are pointing out this grim reality because they want to reduce public hysteria over cornavirus. And they want people to get their flu shots, which despite all the criticism on the streets, are quite effective. 

So why aren't we as concerned about the flu as we are coronavirus? Doctors and other public health officials are very concerned about the flu, since they have the correct perspective. But the public does not share their understanding. The public is constantly exposed to the flu, so there is much contempt for the danger it presents. For most people, a case of the flu just means a week off work, shuffling around the house and taking large quantities of medications to relive symptoms. Given that most people get the flu and recover, most people treat it with the same nonchalance as they do a bad cold. In fact, most people cannot tell the difference between a cold and the flu. 

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The best course of action for all people is to follow recommendations from public health organizations regarding all diseases. For both the flu and coronavirus, the best defense is hand washing, using soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds. 

All illnesses should be taken seriously, but a little perspective helps us to know just how much we should worry about one illness versus another. Given the present situation, we should worry about the flu, not the coronavirus. Flu shots are always a smart idea. 


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